2016-07-02T11:58:02.678-04:00The nature lover in me is constantly at war with my frustrated-gardener self.
2016-05-19T20:53:06.834-04:00Here's my latest one-minute video:
2016-04-03T08:50:16.777-04:00Here's a one-minute video celebrating the arrival of spring in my garden. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="344" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/We1Dk1PFh7A" width="459">
2016-03-22T12:34:28.750-04:00I'm not yet happy with the two novels I've been working on, so last month I started writing my first-ever short story in an attempt to recharge my creativity. It was a great writing exercise, and the story came out so well that I have published it at Amazon's Kindle Store. Here's the product description for "Living it Up in Fiddly Falls":
She might be as old as the hills, but she's not dead. So what is Maryann Flemming's obituary doing on Page 4 of the Fiddly Falls Citizens Gazette?
2016-03-22T12:37:07.014-04:00I'm now updating this blog only sporadically, but as there are 1,004 posts (going way back to December of 2004), these pages still get a great deal of traffic from Google and other search engines. I know that some of you riding in on those links will check to see if I'm still blogging, so I just want to say: No, not really. But thanks for asking.
If you're not a spammer, shoot a message to email@example.com. I'll usually reply within 24 hours.
For daily chatter and tons of photos of my cottage-style flower gardens, check out my Facebook profile and my Twitter feed.
...and of course you're welcome to leave a comment on this blog post.
2013-08-28T10:18:16.659-04:00On balmy summer evenings, I enjoy sitting on the bench behind the fountain in my lighted front garden. The splashing and burbling of water against a background of cicada music is immensely soothing. But last night the pink four-o'clocks and the orange crocosmia were practically glowing in the dark, making the garden a delight for my eyes as well as my ears. In an attempt to share some of that magic with other garden lovers, I grabbed my camera and made this very short video.
2013-08-16T09:02:00.494-04:00(This "golden oldie" NRJW post was originally published on May 23, 2008.)
2013-08-14T08:17:00.078-04:00Most published romance writers are pretty quick to deny it when anyone dares to suggest that category (or "series") romance novels are written to a formula. But I insist that there is indeed a recipe for romance. The category books absolutely do follow a formula.Do you disagree? Then go ahead, please, and tell me which step in this "romance recipe" is not always followed in a category romance novel:1. The hero and heroine will meet (or meet after a longseparation) within the first few pages.2. Early on it will be made clear to the reader, althoughnot necessarily to the hero and heroine, that this coupleabsolutely belongs together.3. Physical or emotional obstacles (usually both) willmake it seem impossible that this man and woman, asperfect for each other as they are, could ever be together.4. After many trials, one or both characters will make asacrifice for the other and/or change in some major waythat proves their love and opens the possibility of afuture together.5. After the last big crisis is resolved the hero andheroine will admit their love to themselves and to eachother and will then enter into a committed relationship.These steps came right off the top of my head, so I've probably left out something important, but I think this is enough to get my point across. Why do we pretend there is no formula for romance novels? Because we feel it cheapens the genre and makes us look like unimaginative imitators rather than intrepid innovators?That's ridiculous. Are we really that insecure? Anyone who thinks it's easy to follow this recipe and write a salable romance novel should try doing it sometime.Writing a romance novel is a lot like making chicken soup. Certain ingredients are always going to be present in chicken soup (chicken and water, for instance), but other things can be tossed in, as well, so your chicken soup will be very different from mine. Mine's thin, with savory broth. Is yours thick and creamy? I never put rice or noodles in mine, do you?All chicken soup is similar in some very basic ways (that chicken-and-water thing again), but not all chicken soup tastes the same. And so it is with romance novels. Even when many of the same elements are present, each author will handle them in very different ways to craft stories as unique as snowflakes.So, yes, there's a basic recipe for writing romance novels. But that doesn't mean it's easy to make a good romance novel, and it doesn't mean that all romance novels will "taste" the same. Recognizing that should deepen rather than lessen our admiration for the genre. Copyright © 2016 by Brenda Coulter, No rules. Just write. "Like" me on Facebook! Follow me on Twitter! [...]
2013-08-12T09:30:00.660-04:00(This "golden oldie" NRJW post was originally published on June 23, 2011.)I just happened upon this over at Jon Winokur's Advice to Writers:1. Dialogue should be brief.2. It should add to the reader’s present knowledge.3. It should eliminate the routine exchanges of ordinary conversation.4. It should convey a sense of spontaneity but eliminate the repetitiveness of real talk.5. It should keep the story moving forward.6. It should be revelatory of the speaker’s character, both directly and indirectly. 7. It should show the relationships among people.--ELIZABETH BOWENThis advice is clearly for aspiring authors, but I figured it wouldn't hurt me to go down the checklist and make sure I've been staying on target in my own writing. I must say, though, that dialogue is the part of novel-writing that has always come easiest to me. Even as a beginner, I had no trouble with points number 3 and 4, which seem to be the ones that trip up almost every other inexperienced writer. I've had to work hard in other areas (description, for example), but I can write dialogue in my sleep, and that's probably why I got published. (I am not a strong plotter, but I can write a compelling conversation, which is a must for anyone submitting character-driven romances to the traditional publishing houses.)If you're not sure what Bowen means by "routine exchanges of information" here's a hint:"Jack, it's been ages! How have you been?""Just great. How about you?""I can't complain. How are the wife and kids?""Good. Yours?""The same. How are you liking that new job?""Lots of new challenges. I miss the old place, though.""And we miss you, believe me."All right, enough. I'm afraid I'll injure my brain if I force myself to write any more of that drivel. But you get it, right? Jack and the other guy used to work together and they haven't seen each other in a while, so now they're catching up. The above conversation reads like it was transcribed verbatim from a real-life exchange, and that is precisely what's wrong with it. It will not work in a novel because novels aren't about real-life conversations any more than Van Gogh's paintings are about sunflowers.If you're writing dialogue today, you might want to bear in mind that suggestion is one of the most powerful tools a writer can wield. You don't have to write a full conversation at all. Just make your readers believe that you did. Here's an example:He hadn't seen Jack in more than a year, not since he'd left his old accounting firm, Bean, Bean, and Bean. They exchanged a handshake and asked about each other's families, and then after a nervous glance around the coffee shop, Jack leaned forward and spoke in a low, urgent voice."What have you heard about the investigation?""All I can tell you, Jack, is that the SEC asked me a few questions. But we expected that, didn't we?""You didn't tell them about--""Of course I didn't tell them. I'm not a fool, Jack!" See the difference? Hurry past the inconsequential stuff and get straight to the juicy parts. That'll keep your readers reading. Copyright © 2016 by Brenda Coulter, No rules. Just write. "Like" me on Facebook! Follow me on Twitter! [...]
2013-08-09T10:02:00.238-04:00(This "golden oldie" NRJW post was originally published on August 11, 2008.)One of the writers' e-mail loops I used to follow closely has become such an annoyance that in the past couple of weeks I've been deleting nearly all of the messages unread. What's the problem? Too much advice on the craft of writing.The group welcomes both published and unpublished novelists, not just romance writers, so we have a good mix of people for sharing encouragement and industry tips. But I've grown weary of these and other endlessly repeated one-size-fits-all writing rules:Using italics is a sign of weak writing.Long sentences make readers lose interest.Adverbs should be used sparingly, but they should never be used in dialogue tags (she said forcefully).Strive for a good balance between narrative and dialogue.Semicolons have no place in novels.Because "said" is invisible to readers, it's the only dialogue tag that should ever be used.As the title of this blog suggests, I tend to scoff at writing rules. But in recent weeks I've been bombarded with the above bits of "writerly wisdom," some of the advice from people who haven't yet managed to sell their first novels and some from published novelists whose writing styles I don't admire and have no desire to emulate. I've noticed that the writers I do admire (and of course I'm talking about art, not personalities) don't tend to go around spouting rules.I'm not saying my writing is any better than that of my eager advisers. I am a competent writer, but not an insanely talented one. While I'm still attempting to hone my craft, I have no illusions that I will ever be a great writer or even a bestselling one--and the truth is that I don't even dream about those things. But over the past couple of weeks I've decided that I don't want free writing advice from other writers. I want to read more, and when I find a technique I admire, I want to examine it and figure out how it works and see if I can find a way to make it work for me.Before selling my first novel, I never took a class, read a how-to book, or submitted pages for anyone to critique. I just read a lot of good books. I stole a few ideas, adapted a style here and there, and found a way of writing that felt right to me. I use adverbs and italics with abandon, and I believe semicolons are darn useful. I think a long sentence can be the juiciest part of a paragraph, and I usually end up with way more narrative than dialogue. And I just don't agree that "said" is invisible to readers, so I use other dialogue tags to keep things interesting.You may have different opinions on all of those things, and that's fine with me. Just understand, please, that before I take advice from another writer, I'm going to insist on seeing some examples of your work. Your being a contest judge or a writers' workshop presenter or "multi-published" or a New York Times bestseller or a Pulitzer Prize winner won't make you an authority in my eyes unless I love the way you write. And even then, your style might not work for the kind of books I like to write.But as I said, the really great writers don't often post writing rules like "never use semicolons" on writers' message loops. So I guess I'm still on my own. Copyright © 2016 by Brenda Coulter, No rules. Just write. "Like" me on Facebook! Follow me on Twitter! [...]
2013-08-07T09:32:00.061-04:00(This "golden oldie" NRJW post was originally published on May 10, 2008.)
Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore every body, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.
--Jane Austen, Mansfield Park
2013-08-05T08:29:00.365-04:00(This "golden oldie" NRJW post was originally published on December 21, 2010.)Last night I read a book review complaining that a certain romance novel tried a reader's patience because the sentences were too short and simple. I immediately lost interest in the book. Choppy writing turns me off, too. It's almost insulting to be presented with the same banal prose I read in the first grade when we were supposed to be having all that fun with Dick and Jane: See Spot. See Spot run.You might have noticed one of the quotes this blog's sidebar:"I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions."--James MichenerThat first sentence gets straight to the point: I love writing. It gives us information but it doesn't engage our imaginations. It's the second sentence that does that. When we read, "I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions," we're drawn into a mesmerizing rhythm that arouses our feelings.Short sentences tend to convey facts rather than elicit emotions. And since I read romance novels for the emotional ride, I'm not going to be interested in a book full of short sentences. I want novels with heart, novels that tantalize with words put together so beautifully that I'm caught up in their rhythm. I want stories that draw me in and carry me along. I want to feel like a passenger in a train car that rocks me gently as it speeds toward my destination. And it's primarily words that give me that experience. Plot is secondary.So you'll see a lot of longer sentences in my writing. You might already have noticed that commas are my good friends. And I am positively in love with semicolons, I don't care how much bad-mouthing they get on writers' e-mail loops. The little darlings are darn useful for extending a sentence that's swinging along so well that I can't bear for it to end.Of course I throw in the occasional short sentence to break things up. Paragraphs full of nothing but long sentences can be wearying, so I write in intervals, the same way I work out on my treadmill: fast, slow, fast, slow. It keeps things interesting. Also, the occasional stripped-down sentence is great for startling readers, for amusing them, and so on. I'm just careful to conserve their strength by employing them only when necessary. Copyright © 2016 by Brenda Coulter, No rules. Just write. "Like" me on Facebook! Follow me on Twitter! [...]
2013-07-30T09:00:06.204-04:00(This "golden oldie" NRJW post was originally published on June 12, 2006.)Posted by Brenda Coulter at No rules. Just write.Over the weekend I downloaded a couple of Snow Patrol CDs for my iPod. I was already familiar with several of the alternative-rock group's songs, but what made me hit the "purchase now" button was this bit from Mike McGonigal's editorial review of the "Eyes Open" CD: "If there was ever perfect music to get lost to while driving around confused about a relationship, this is it."I imagine he's right. Which is why that CD has been rattling my office windows this morning as I work on my romance novel.Believe it or not, this middle-aged writer has a great deal in common with that bunch of twentysomething Scottish/Irish alt-rockers. I, too, am creative, and I know what it's like to strive to express a particular mood. I, too, start with a snatch of "melody" and a handful of images and then begin shaping my piece, adding a little here, carving off a bit there. I know what it's like to stand back and look at my creation and feel those flutters in my gut and know that something's not right, something more is needed--or perhaps something less. And I know the satisfaction of having created a work that resonates with my audience.Last night I perused the (digital) liner notes on the "Wide Awake" CD, in which frontman and lyricist Gary Lightbody wrote about the song "Open Your Eyes":It was the most ambitious song we have ever attempted. Built around one hypnotic rift and a very claustrophobic opening verse which opens...out into an ever building, rolling landscape. We wanted to increase the tension in the song to the point where when the final release came it made you exhale. We wanted it to tease and then smash.I especially liked that part about teasing and then smashing. That's precisely what I try to do with my romance novels: Draw you in, encourage you to live the story right along with my characters, and then rip your heart out. Tease and smash. Of course, with a romance novel there's an extra step, which is bringing the hero and heroine back together and giving them an emotionally satisfying ending.I've never written a song, but I think I know what it feels like to write one. Similarly, I believe Gary Lightbody knows what it feels like to write a romance novel. Do you suppose he realizes that? Copyright © 2016 by Brenda Coulter, No rules. Just write. "Like" me on Facebook! Follow me on Twitter! [...]
2013-07-29T08:36:00.264-04:00(This "golden oldie" NRJW post was originally published on February 6, 2007.)Recently, one of my aunts sent me the full text (as recorded in a local newspaper) of a speech delivered in 1887 by my great-great-great grandfather on the occasion of his fiftieth wedding anniversary. I was charmed by my ancestor's account of his courtship, which began in 1836 or perhaps the year before:I became acquainted with a very pretty little girl living on the Little Miami, near Newton. Somehow or other I got to sidling down that way occasionally to see the folks and test my little girls cooking, I some times staid two or three days, and thus it ran on for a year or two when I discover that the exposure to bad weather or some other cause, there was getting something the matter with me, though my gerneral health was good. Did not know exactly what ailed me at first, so I thought I would go down and tell my little girl about it, and after chalking on my hat "Barkis is Willin” and supposing that she was getting tired of boarding me so long for nothing, proposed that we get married and board ourselves.Well, after hemming and hawing awhile she thought may be, perhaps we had better. That little matter being settled the next thing in order was to hunt up the old folks and see what they thought about it. They did not seem to be much surprised and being of good old hard predestination faith I guess they thought that what was to be would be any how, gave their consent and the old lady thought that if we kept in the same mind we ought marry the following summer. Ida thought in the spring would be a nice time. Well that was some concession on their part, but did not satisfy me by any means and I proposed the fore part of the next week as the proper time. But after higling and jewing for some time the best that I could do was get them down to a month ahead, and we settled on the 29th of January 1837. Meaning business now, and to save another trip, I went to the clerks office and procured a license (marriage) of old General Harrison and put in my pocket, thinking now that I had a preemption right to my girl at least. I then felt in good humor and went around whistling "Yankee Doodle" and occasionally a bar of “Old Dan Tucker”, as if there was nothing the matter. After a long month expired, I hastened down to finish the matter up, and be done with It. Found a nice crowd of friends there and among them good old Deacon Ferris, whose occupation was preaching the Gospel on Sunday and blacksmithing the balance of the week. Then we stood up and he struck a few sledge hammer blows while the iron was hot and made the weld, pronouncing us one bone and one beef, or something of that sort.I had a good chuckle over the part about him chalking "Barkis is willin'" on his hat, but then it occurred to me that my great-great-great grandfather might have been having a little joke on his audience. I looked it up to be certain, and yep, David Copperfield was just in a twinkle in Mr. Dickens' eye back in 1836, when my ancestor proposed to his "little girl" (sometime around Christmas). The novel wasn't published until 1850. So what, if anything, did Grandpa chalk on his hat?The smooth-talking old rascal. He was a judge and a state senator, but apparently he wasn't averse to stretching the truth for the amusement of others. But if he was the first in the family to make up (or at least, embellish) a romantic story, he certainly wasn't the last. Apparently, writing romance novels is in my blood.He was 77 years old on that day in 1887 when he and his wife celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. The newspaper ar[...]
2013-07-25T08:30:00.587-04:00(This "golden oldie" NRJW post was originally published on February 3, 2006.)
2013-07-24T14:50:00.141-04:00Although I haven't been blogging for a while, there are still a number of people subscribed to this blog's updates, and Google is still sending lots of traffic, as well. So today I have determined to delve into the NRJW archives (which include nearly a thousand posts written between December 2004 and December 2012) and start republishing some of my favorite posts for those of you who might have missed them on the first go-round.
2012-12-12T20:11:25.842-05:00I might have mentioned this before [snicker], but new reader favorite Her Minnesota Man is now available in softcover. It's big and beefy (5.5 X 8.5 inches, and more than an inch thick), but it will still fit comfortably between your hands. It smells good, too--all nice and booky. And it has been meticulously proofread.I opted for a larger typeface and also made sure there'd be plenty of space between the lines for ease of reading. And the chapter headings are pretty, don't you think?To date, the e-book version of Her Minnesota Man has been downloaded more than 50,000 times. Many of those nice people have asked for a print version to put on their keeper shelves, and I'm happy to oblige.So snag yourself a softcover copy right now at Amazon. Better yet, buy two. You can keep one and give the other as a Christmas gift.Yeah, I know. Money's tight, and the book's currently listed at $9.99. Would it help if I told you I'm not making a killing on this project? After paying my printer and the Amazon sales commission, my profit on that $9.99 list price is a mere 42 cents. No, I'll never get rich this way. I'm simply making the print version as affordable as I can because I think the book deserves to be widely read--and not everyone enjoys reading e-books.If you haven't yet read Her Minnesota Man, I hope you'll take a couple of minutes to browse the fantastic customer reviews at Amazon. Maybe then you'll decide to download the e-book or splurge on the print copy.Honestly, I think you'll enjoy the novel. It's my best work yet. One more thing. I'd consider it a huge favor if some of you would share this post. E-mail it to a friend or maybe stick it on Pinterest. Facebooking or Tweeting would be great, too. Warmest thanks! Copyright © 2016 by Brenda Coulter, No rules. Just write. "Like" me on Facebook! Follow me on Twitter! [...]
2012-12-10T18:32:05.879-05:00Over the past several months, I've been delighted to hear from hundreds of readers who have confessed to falling in love with the town of Owatonna, Minnesota, as depicted in my inspirational romance novel, Her Minnesota Man. While readers familiar with southern Minnesota will understand that I fictionalized a few of the places mentioned in the book, they will also note that I included quite a few real-life details. Those of you who are curious about the real Owatonna might enjoy this Owatonna People's Press video of the 2012 Hometown Holiday Lighted Parade.
2012-11-24T12:06:07.234-05:00Her Minnesota Man, my self-published e-book, has become a big hit with readers. As of yesterday there were 96 Customer Reviews on Amazon, a whopping 87 of which are 5-star. I am just amazed--and incredibly grateful to the Lord and to all of the nice people who have wished me well in this endeavor. Since the e-book's release at the end of May, satisfied readers have been asking for a print edition for their keeper shelves and to give as gifts. So I'm pleased to announce that Her Minnesota Man is now available as a trade-size (5.5 X 8.5") paperback. Just in time for Christmas. (Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.) For those of you whose eyes aren't quite as sharp as they used to be, I've bucked the industry trend of using teeny-tiny print to conserve pages in longer novels. While I haven't quite approached true Large Print territory, I believe that nearly all of you will find this book easy on the eyes. It could be several more days before the softcover is listed at Amazon, but you can order a copy right now from CreateSpace. And since your ordering directly from the printer will net me a higher royalty (because I'll have no Amazon commission to pay), I will happily knock three bucks off your purchase price. Just enter this code: J8PHGWSL. Here's your link: https://www.createspace.com/4057375 (Don't forget the coupon code for your $3.00 savings!) All the best to everyone. And if some of you would share this news, I'd be very grateful. Copyright © 2016 by Brenda Coulter, No rules. Just write. "Like" me on Facebook! Follow me on Twitter! [...]
2012-10-25T13:56:54.111-04:00I'm in the process of changing the bookcover of Her Minnesota Man at all of the online stores. Several people had complained about the old cover (which is always a risk when you put a face on a bookcover), and I needed a much higher-resolution image for an upcoming print copy, anyway.