Author Archives: RobinDOwens

About RobinDOwens

RITA® Award Winning novelist Robin D. Owens credits the telepathic cat with attitude in selling her first futuristic/fantasy romance, HeartMate, published in December 2001. Since then she has written fourteen books in the series, Heart Fire the latest in November 2014. Her five book Luna series included average American women Summoned into another dimension to save a world. Her Mystic Circle series was a mixture of contemporary urban and romantic fantasy set in Denver. And her newest stories, about an uptight accountant who sees Old West ghosts and helps them move on, started with Ghost Seer in April 2014. She is profoundly thankful to be recipient of the 2004 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Writer of the Year award as well as the 2011 Writer of the Year Award, the Colorado Romance Writers Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2010 Best Paranormal and Best of the Best Daphne Du Maurier Award.

Endings and Endings Problems:

By Robin D. Owens

Endings are extremely important. You want the reader to be satisfied, more, to remember that you gave them a good finish and look forward to your next book.

Here are some problems I, as a reader and writer, find in endings:

I had a favorite author (male writing under a female pseudonym) whose work I loved . . . until the end. Many of his/her books felt like s/he just didn't care past a certain point, or had left this particular project until late (the romances) and had to rush. Deeply unsatisfying.

So rushing pace can be a problem.

Or abrupt endings. I have a writer friend who likes to read endings with an emotional wrap-up, even as she tends to write until the action is done and stops.

Or a slow and lingering pace. The hero and heroine have solved the crime, saved the world, fallen in love, and you spend two more extraneous chapters describing how happy they and their friends and everyone else is.

Point of view. I have had books with only hero's and heroine's point of view . . . then, rather like a long camera pan in a film, the point of view changes to omniscient. This bugs me.

For example, I read a treasure hunt romance about a lost pearl (object has been changed). The hero and heroine kiss and go off to bed. The last line went something like: And in the moonlight the pearl softly gleamed. (What?)

Cliffhangers and Setting Up a Series

I would say that unless your next book will is out or will be published within, say, a week, don't do this. It irritates folks that the protagonist remains in danger, or hasn't solved the crime, or the love interest has died/left/been dumped.

A critique buddy recently read a mystery-thriller that began a series that she hadn't realized was the first book in a series. She thought the (continuing characters) cops were stupid because they didn't investigate well and didn't solve the original crime at the end, and the main villain escaped. Though the romance in the book wrapped up well, the mystery was left hanging. She was quite annoyed and would not go on to the next book. I heard about this and we dissected the technique for about two hours.

So watch your set-ups and pay-offs. If you set up an action, especially a main problem in your book, you will have less readers upset with you if you solve that problem instead of leaving it dangling.

For myself, I tend to leave a few threads unresolved in my series, this is usually acceptable for readers and hopefully tantalizes them, and it gives me a longer arc to work on a particular story.

The romance wraps up, the character growth wraps up, but there is a continuing story thread that is not resolved.

For instance: Once a hero was disinherited and this caused major problems for his whole family over the course of 3-4 books. Lately I've introduced a violent and evil political group (heh, heh) and have whittled down some of its members from book to book, but have left one last person unknown . . . to be caught and punished in the next book. This will wrap up that particular thread that's run through three books.

A final note. What I think is most important is the emotional punch of an ending. If you make sure you get the emotion right, some lack of technique can be forgiven. Like the first line or paragraph of your story should hook the reader, so should the last paragraphs or lines evoke enough emotion to linger in your readers' memories.

I've written twenty-five books, four novellas and two short stories, and I've always worked hard at the endings – to tie things up right, leave a good punctuating emotional note that would echo after the reader finished. But I think I've done exceptional endings twice.

My most recently published book, Ghost Killer, has one of the best endings I've done. (And thus why I thought of this topic). That ending is second after HeartMate, published book #1 (which might have helped get me published in the first place).

And here's a fact about Ghost Killer's ending. It came strictly through the historical research as I was writing the book. I knew in general what I wanted, but the research supplied another couple of layers to the moment.

So look inside yourself for your ending, see if it can echo your beginning, perhaps leave a hint of the next story. And be open for the muse or fate or research or an odd comment you might hear to add that emotional note you need to make a reader smile and sigh and close the book, wishing it wasn't over.

May all your writing dreams come true,
Robin

Support

By Robin D. Owens

"My brain has decided that writing isn't a temporary job anymore," said Laila, a writer I've been sprinting alongside in the mornings lately.

"I'm rearranging my office this morning during our writing sprints. When I started working my day job from home and writing too, I assumed it was temporary. I thought I was going to join an MBA program. But after finishing this manuscript, I've realized that writing isn't a temporary job anymore."

"That's important." I typed back. I spend most of my days with an online group doing sprints. They are motivational and supportive (the people . . . though I suppose the sprints – wars – are supportive, too, and certainly motivational).

Everyone is invited. The ones who stay find this process works for them (it doesn't for everyone). We are published traditionally, published by small press, self-published, published through Kickstarter, and unpublished. Laila is unpublished.

Laila joined the war room (a specialized chat room) in March (yes, I asked her since I'm writing this with her in the war room) "one week into the draft of the manuscript."

The last couple of months have been intense in the war room, with three of us solidly working. I was late with Heart Legacy and turned it in May 8, then jumped on Ghost Talker, due at the end of this month. (Ha, ha, ha).

Jay had a book due to her small press on June 15. Both Laila and Jay finished their manuscripts on the same day last week.

We all celebrated with cheers and virtual champagne. Because we aren't in the same room, you know, or even in the same area.

We are worldwide. Sweden, England, Ireland, East Coast Canada, Central Time, Mountain Time and West Coast Time zones are all represented.

But we are a community, an extremely supportive and motivated bunch. And that's incredibly important to me. By now, I would say that daily support is necessary to me.

I've done the home-from-day-job-start-writing business. I did that for many years, writing alone in the dark every night, writing on weekends and holidays. At that time (and now) I had RMFW critique buddies, the monthly meetings and various get-togethers for support.

For me, the support of writing friends is vital.

I think it is vital for all writers. You aren't alone. There are others out there like you. People who hear characters speak to them or see a scene roll before their inner eyes. Or writers who struggle with character decisions, turning points and plot. Clunky words and learning technique. And if you hang around us, we will motivate you to write.

A caveat: Make sure you find the group that fits you. Ditch the ones that drag you down and suck out your energy and emotions (because, yes, some do).

But if RMFW fits you (and it boggles my mind that it wouldn't), stick with us, your friends in RMFW, your critique group buddies. Your Writing Groups. We will help you. We'll be there. You can count on us.

May you write wonderful words today.
Robin

(p.s. send me an email if you think you need the wordwars group -- robindowens (at) gmail (dot) com. I'll get back to you with the chat room url and password. Like I said we're open to everyone, but a lot of people come and go deciding whether or not we work for them. We tend to do days in the U.S. Sometimes evenings and nights. We do have a spec fic slant.)

Beta Readers

By Robin D. Owens

Beta Readers are those people who will read your manuscript after you're done, but before you submit it to your publisher.

I have a mentor (Kay Bergstrom) who always reads my work, and I have Beta Readers. Though I try and keep track of people who have read my manuscripts and help me, I tend to cycle through readers (fans) on my blog and facebook, looking for good beta readers.

But I have one guy named Joe (no, that's not his real name, but equally common). Joe started with my futuristic/fantasy romance series and has followed me through my fantasy and my paranormal romance. Joe is good. Since he's been reading my manuscripts, he's gotten better. I don't know whether that's because we've worked together or not. But I can trust Joe.

This morning, before I sent my two month and one week late book due (that's already scheduled for November and being pre-ordered), I wrote a new opening that Kay advised. I worked about three hours on this opening scene so it had enough set up but not too much info dump. Who did I send it to that I knew would get back to me quickly with an honest read? Joe.

Much as I love compliments – and we all need compliments – what we need most is an honest read if we want our manuscripts to be the best. We can get this from critique buddies, we will definitely get it from professional editors (whether we pay them or the publisher pays them), and we should try to find beta readers who do this.

During my recent quest for beta readers, I sent out five rough draft manuscripts to people I thought might be able to help me. Some were familiar with the series, some stated editorial or literary background. All of them said they read fast (because I tend to need a fast turn-around).

One of those never got back to me. This always happens. Often some get back to me too late.

I always ask for OVERALL comments on the story, places of confusion, slow pace, characters not acting reasonably or being stupid or jerks, plot holes, other problems.

I don't care about grammar and punctuation. My publisher's copy editor will take care of that, and I have a good friend I pay to copy edit, too. At this particular point, the rough draft, I need input on the story.

This time I got: Wonderful book, rest assured your fans will love it. Great, that felt great, but was of little help with the story.

I got punctuation, grammar and typo stuff. This also always happens.

Mostly I got continuity errors, which are important and I fix before I turn it in, but I didn't get any comments on characters or plot except from Kay and Joe. So this round wasn't as helpful as I'd hoped.

Especially since I lay in bed last night knowing something was definitely wrong with my secondary black moment, when the relationship breaks. Joe hadn't said anything about it, so it didn't bother him as a reader (like the lack of stated motivation for the villain had). Kay had a problem with it, and I cut pursuant to her suggestions, but it didn't still didn't work. So I had to go back and forth and around and around (like my ceiling fan), until I came up with the solution. I pretty much returned to the basics of character, craft, and the romance genre rules and figured it out. When I did, I knew it was right.

So, some points of this blog.
1) Beta readers can be extremely helpful.
2) You will have to look to find good ones, if you do, keep them. Be gracious to those who give you what you don't need.
3) The bottom line is that you must also trust yourself.

The GREAT Idea From Two Different Points of View

By Robin D. Owens

"I'm getting into the writing business," my ex said as we walked through the spring sunshine last month to the ice cream shop. What my ex knows about writing can fit on the point of a pin. "I have this GREAT idea. You can do the legwork." And now you know why he's my ex.

"No," I said.

"It will make us lots of money," he said.

I saw a penny on the sidewalk, reached down and handed it to him. "That's how much your idea is worth." (No, that didn't happen, it's just for the story). "Ideas are nothing without hard work."

He ignored me and kept enthusing about his great idea that has only been done a zillion times because, you know, he doesn't actually READ books like the one he wants me to write so he doesn't know the market. I don't think he reads fiction at all.

Nor has he done any basic research on the market, because that's the legwork I am supposed to do.

But, you know, I should be thrilled to write a coming of age story (which I loathe) about a new girl in a Catholic high school with a lot of sex. Sexy enough that both men and women will LOVE to read this book. Then I will write the screenplay and it will become a lucrative film.

I wish the above was false, but no. Thankfully he had another appointment to meet someone about another GREAT business idea SHE would implement and we only had about a half hour together, but I can tell you, I didn't enjoy my Irish Cream ice cream as much as I'd anticipated.

If you are a writer, this will happen to you. Words like the above will come to you from the least likely person in the universe. They will come from strangers after you've just met the person.
Everyone believes writing a book is easy.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again, 1,000,000 words. Or 10,000 hours, and you will master the craft of writing. The same amount of work it will take to master any other profession.

And great (or not so great) ideas are a dime a dozen.

Here's another true story about another great idea from a different slant.

I had a friend in the business but a new writer say last time we met "Don't tell anyone this idea I had." She made a face because she knows that's a standard worry of amateur writers, but she meant it, too.

It was a lovely idea, and I don't know how long it would take her to write it, but I could write it faster. If I wanted it. I don't. As I've also said before, one basic idea (or pic) could be given to a roomful of writers and everyone would write a different story. The theme of this particular story that my friend has is not one that I agree with, so I won't do it. I would never use this idea of hers in a million years because I'm not interested in writing that particular plot, either. OTOH, if she gets it done, it's sufficiently interesting that I'd read it -- after she's put in all the research.

I have a lot of ideas of my own...some proposals that weren't picked up and I may never get back to or will be changed for something new. A SERIES that was dropped that I still have the outline for 3-4 books. Ideas that are my own that I can get excited about.

And, really, most story ideas have been done and we're just looking at permutations.

So, as for ideas...I've been reading a lot of different contests' entries (unpublished and published) and there are some that are interesting, but...they aren't mine, I might enjoy reading them, but never writing them.

Again, those people who think a published author (or other writer) would steal their idea mark themselves as amateurs. We have our own ideas that we love.

May you enjoy your imagination today,
Robin

Hook me, baby.

By Robin D. Owens

Hook me, baby

Occasionally I pick up one of the unread books I've purchased and say, "hook me, baby." Most of the time I realize why I didn't read the book right away, and often I just go to something else. The amount of time I can spend reading is extremely limited, and if there isn't a good hook, I'm gone.

My bias: I am a firm believer in getting the hook in the first line, and if not the first line, then the first paragraph. I think the longer you take to set the hook, the more likely it is that the reader will skip to the next book in the pile (or on their device). I believe that no matter your status as a writer – unpublished or New York Times #1 Best Seller, you should attempt to hook the reader as soon as humanly possible. Don't expect the reader to have read any other books of yours, especially if you write series. Work your hook, always.

Like I said, this is my bias and this is the point of view I'm coming from in this article. And as a reader, I want to be drawn into a story quickly. (I once had an agent turn Heart Thief down because she "liked to sink into a story.")

The following are some openings that DON'T work for ME. These are true examples, pretty much as I flicked through my electronic library, but the authors will remain anonymous.

1) Starting with the weather. I don't care if it's hot and sultry, or if a thunderstorm is raging. Why, if your hero is making a pact with the devil at the end of the paragraph, don't you put that in the first line? Or if your heroine senses danger outside in that storm, you wait until the end of the second paragraph before telling me? Use it up front to get me interested in your story.

2) Five people named in the first two pages. What? Who? Why? What is going on that there are so many people? Who are they, and who of these five are important? Where are they? You have to keep track of them all, what they look like, their ages, and who moves where. This was especially necessary in the mystery I'd started. This becomes less of entertainment and enjoyment and more work for me, the reader.

3) Ten pages of standing and looking out the window and thinking about backstory, or driving somewhere and thinking of the past. When will the action/story actually start?

4) The hero or heroine embarrassing himself/herself or acting stupid in the first scene. If I'm putting myself in that person's skin, I don't want to feel embarrassed or stupid, I can do that just fine on my own in my own life, thank you, I expect more of my protagonists. At this point, unless I know and trust the author, I don't know if the character will really improve or not.

5) Point of view of a wonderful person, an obvious victim who will die before the end of the first scene. I especially don't like to be tortured to death. You had better have a very good story reason for this, and you had better not have been manipulating my emotions gratuitously. This is a cheap-shot to try and get me involved without giving me information on your main protagonist.
Note: I finished this book, but am still irate that the New York Times best-selling author didn't find a better way to give us information that the main characters didn't know. S/he should have mastered a better technique to do so, and if s/he doesn't know a better technique his/her editor should have. I reread the books I buy often. I have never reread this scene.

Other ways of opening that may or may not work, depending upon the reader and/or the technique of the writer. These you should consider.

Starting with a dream. Conventional wisdom states this is a no-no. I can't say "never," since in my twenty-four published books, two have started with a dream, including the latest, Heart Fire, which begins with a nightmare of a past event. Two pieces of advice: Make sure readers know up front it's a dream, and keep it as short as possible.

Single character on stage. I've also used single character on stage; again, keep the backstory to a minimum, keep the time the person is solo as short as possible, and make sure the character's voice is engaging, or the events s/he's immersed in are active -- fast action and/or a dangerous situation.

Tense and/or Point of View, for instance:

First person present tense. I, personally, have a problem with reading this. It makes my head ache. If there isn't something especially wonderful about the book, I close it. Be aware of tense and point of view with regard to the genre you're writing in and your audience.

With regard to point of view, I like deep third person past tense. I don't particularly care for omniscient point of view as it seems distancing to me as a reader and the less engaged I am in the story, the more likely I am to put the book down. Again, some genres and readers accept this better.

And that's my two-bits on hooks and hooking me to read your work. Other people might have other sensitivities, but I will say that I try my best to stay away from what bothers me as a reader as I craft my own work as a writer.

Be aware what hooks YOU and keeps you reading, study the books and the openings that particularly worked for you as a reader and figure out if you can use the same technique.

May all your writing dreams come true,
Robin

Nailing Voice

By Robin D. Owens

I watched that reality show, The Voice. I especially like the blind auditions and observing how the coaches work with people – because I like seeing professionals practice their craft in other disciplines, and I wonder if I can use this or that technique in mine.

To be honest, though I LOVE music, and writing to music, I prefer no vocals to distract me. And though I've watched the show since it began and am learning the terminology for singing and the music business, I don't consider that I have a good ear. For singing.

But for writing? Yes, I can usually spot when someone has nailed their voice.

THE main thing in writing is also VOICE. It's that uniqueness that only you can bring to the page. The way you structure your words, the way you put together your sentences, the characters you swagger across the page . . . simply, the way your mind works.

And when it works, the reader knows it.

All our backgrounds are different, depending where and when we grew up, our social strata and how our parents and peers talked (for instance, I never heard my parents use the f-word – ever, and my father grew up lower class in Denver with three brothers). So the words you use will be different than even your best friend's. Your world view is your own, and with that view, you will craft the worlds, whether it is contemporary Denver, historical Mississippi, or Space Station Zebra, that you want to explore, and that you want others to explore.

Usually it takes a while to find your voice, to refine it, then to keep true to it. I know that mumbledy-mumble years ago, when I began seriously writing, the leader of my first critique group had me check out a packet from the RMFW library on Voice (yes, it was that long ago). This packet had a couple of books and conference lecture tapes (WAY long ago). At the time I was a little miffed, because I thought I'd found my voice. But after going home and writing a scene in my favorite author's style, I realized I wasn't quite there. So I read the books and listened to the tapes.

I also remember being scolded for using cliches. I once wrote "we were ships passing in the night." So, the next time critique group met, it was: "We were ships, passing in the night. But he was a nuclear sub and I was a clipper..."

Yes, you may start out writing robotic characters that fizzle, cliches that sound new but are so old that a reader never wants to see them again (like "strappy sandals"). Paragraphs strung together that might be found in any new writer's books, published or unpublished (my first manuscript is staying firmly in the drawer). But as you write and as you grow as a writer and as you READ, you will find that voice.

Even if your everyday voice isn't the one you use when you write, if you craft lyrical sentences, or you polish or pare down until the words on the page are closest to the images in your head (or the voices in your ears), you will find your original voice and use it, and that's what will keep the readers coming back.

And that's what I want to remind you of this month, that you have a voice that is only yours. Characters that only you can imagine, your plot that will twist this or that way.

Find your voice, let it grow and change as it needs to, and stay true to it, because that's why people will want to read YOUR stories.

May all your writing dreams come true.
Robin

Writing as a J.O.B.

By Robin D. Owens

Some quick bits of advice for the new writer (or reminders for the experienced, though I expect them to just nod, because they know this and don't need to be reminded).

1) Writing is work and it can be hard. Even if your original words spring from a wonderful inspired rush, there is still dealing with agents, editors, reviewers. If you're e-published, there is a mountain of decisions to be made about covers and editing and promo, promo, promo.

I remember when I realized writing was work. I was revising my first book (which I'd written one summer without benefit of critique). I was so new I had a writing buddy (who has since quit) so we could check out our writing BEFORE taking it to our critique group so we didn't embarrass ourselves.

It was Saturday morning and I was not a morning person. I met my friend at a place across town at 7 a.m. and we read each other's scenes. Hers was fine. Mine, that I'd spent hours writing and revising was: "This is great but it doesn't belong in the book." Hours. Mental anguish finding just the right word. Gone forever. Writing, and making a career of writing is not JUST fun.

No, writing is not police work or firefighting, or other physically or emotionally taxing professions, but, yes, it can be hard. As the late, wonderful Rick Hanson said, "Writing is the hardest thing I've ever done, and I was in VietNam." Or, as Steven Moores says: "If writing was easy Ernest Hemingway wouldn't have shot himself in the head with a shotgun."

Note: only three of the ten-twelve of us in that original group are still writing.

2) Ten thousand hours, a million words before your craft is honed. Yes, really. Everyone thinks they can write a book, and write one easily, and (if you are lucky), easy books will come. But this is a craft, a profession, a job like anything else. Whatever hours you put into training for your day job or regular career will have to be worked in writing, too.

Sometimes when I have problems I haul myself and computer to a local coffee shop. One day I was there, and when I powered up and the word processing program came online, it showed my formatted work. I think I had printed pages of revisions beside me, maybe some promo for my last books.

A woman sitting at the next table with three other women (a book club, I think) slanted me a glance and said to her friends, "You remember when we all decided to write a book last year?" Yes, they did, and they talked about the experience. They'd thought it would be easy. No one had gotten to Chapter 3.

3) Don't depend on inspiration to show up before you write. Some days pages will plink out word by word like drops of blood wrung from your brain and heart, slit from your wrist to hit the keyboard with your fingers. If you are good enough, your readers won't be able to tell which words originated from your flushed inspiration and those that dribbled out.

I attend a writing retreat in South Carolina every year, and one year a woman showed up who'd written an award-winning children's book. She'd done that on a fabulous wave of inspiration. She was taking this time to free her mind so she could repeat the process. She spent all that week waiting for the inspiration and it didn't come. I don't think she's ever written anything since.

Stephen King writes about his muses, the boys in the basement. Show up every day at the same time, and the guys will be more likely to show up, too. For me, that means that if you sit down, and your brain and body know you're going to work, it can be easier to do.

Discipline is important. Put your butt in the chair and fingers on the keyboard and write. If fabulous literary words don't come, write workman-like sentences. If workman-like sentences don't come, write whatever does. Give yourself permission to write crap. You can always revise.

You CAN do it!

Go forth and WRITE GOOD STUFF!

Writing Through The Dark Times

By Robin D. Owens.

I reached the end of a book in a long series I love and found a note that the series, which the author had anticipated writing for years, had abruptly ended. She'd had a major upheaval in her life and couldn't overcome her new circumstances to reach back into the core happiness and central theme of that series and continue.

This is an epublished author and series and she designs her career. Of course, I empathized, and I'm deeply sorry that she's going through this, and I will darn well miss that series.

I know she's crafting a new life, but I think she is making a career mistake.

I've seen the promo for the new series she's writing under another name and I don't think the majority of her readers will follow her to it. Or if they do, the first book will have to be so EXTRAORDINARY, the characters so completely engaging that she'll pull her readers along, and that's a tough job. And I think her new genre is too niche to attract more than a few new readers.

Now I know something about the above. I know about writing a niche series. I know about readers following you (or not) to other series. I know about being the sole support of yourself and your family with your writing. I know about a train wreck happening in your life that changes it into a shape you'd barely imagined.

For me, in 2010, I hung onto my series (and I do write lighter, more humorous stories and that was a concern) and added a collection of stories to what I'd already contracted for.

And there is the big difference. I was contracted for more books in the two series I was writing at the time. I didn't have the luxury of walking away from them without paying back money that was mostly spent and thrashing around in legal complications.

I had to reach into myself and still pull up what I needed to continue those books, and hope that what I found inside would be sufficiently close to what my readers expected.

I'm sure if someone really analyzed my writing before and after April 2010, you'd see it's changed, perhaps gotten an edge here or there it didn't have. But one of my series, the Celta "Heart" books (all the stories have "Heart" in the title) is still continuing. The other series, Mystic Circle for Luna did not, but due more to the publisher and the changing face of publishing than my personal angst.

If I presumed to give advice to this writer (who I believe is much more successful than me), I'd tell her: fake it until you make it. Or perhaps that's not quite an exact a phrase: wring out what you can minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day and string it into a story.

Yes, writing is an emotional experience, based on inner feelings. But writing is also technique, and writers CAN be professional and carry on, especially if you have no choice.

Like I said before, you find that spot, that core of you that you reveal in bits through every story and you hang on tight to that and go there and mine it.

You also do exactly what you do during the darkISH times – the tough times we all have learned to write through. You use those processes you already have in place that work for you such as journaling (Morning Pages for those of you who follow Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way), venting to friends, afternoons away (Artist Dates), rearranging your office or going to somewhere else to write. You use everything to keep on track.

You also depend on your beta readers and critique group to see if the technique and the emotion you can put in will carry you through as you limp, then return to your stride.

With this particular writer, I think that she will find she has to go back to her previous series, first because it is a money maker, then because she loves/loved it too, and she can. And I think she will try shorter pieces first with enough of the emotional resonance of her first series until she can return. Her writing may be different, but perhaps not as much as she anticipates. Time helps.

Now, that's emotional darkness. What about LITERAL darkness? In these short days of winter light, writing can be a problem. I know it is for me. As I learned through research for my Summoning series, Denver has an average of three hundred days of sunshine a year. I have trouble writing when it's gray. Gray days are for snuggling and reading.

Personally (and I don't know the facts), this November and December have seemed grayer for me, and I've struggled, but, again, I have procedures in place and have instituted new ones. These work for me: a full spectrum light on my desk; taking a walk in the sunshine if/when it appears and if it doesn't taking a walk in the gray; writing with friends: online in a war room, sprints on twitter, and in person.

Or grab yourself some strong coffee (or tea), some music that will put you in the mood, and just march forward word by word, phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence.

May all your writing dreams come true and may next year be even better than this year!

Robin

Words and Pictures

By Robin D. Owens

A picture is worth a thousand words. Or is it?

The following is a true story.

One year I had a calendar from Harper that features heroes from their book covers every month. Now Mr. January, a Tudor sort, intrigued me. He seemed to issue a subtle challenge, but I couldn't quite figure it, or him, out. So I decided to do what I usually do when I can't solve a thorny problem in my writing, present the issue to my critique group. (Note the cover is the ORIGINAL book cover for The Greatest Lover In All England by Christina Dodd).

I knew Sharon Mignerey, who hosted our critique group, had the same calendar, and that we tended to congregate in her office before critiquing officially started. And so it was on the first Saturday of February that year.

We had been talking of this and that when the calendar caught my eye, still showing Mr. January. I brought up the idea that it would be interesting to do a character sketch of the man -- and his subtle challenge.

"Challenge" was the wrong word. Adjectives shot through the room. He was welcoming, generous. No, he was selfish, conceited. On the contrary, he was debonair. No, wily, dangerous -- as many adjectives as there were people.

"He's sensitive," someone said.

This man does not have a sensitive bone in his body, I thought.

"Hey, he's arrogant," I said. "He's got his hand on his sword hilt."

"Where else would he put it? He doesn't have any pockets," Liz retorted. This is true. The guy is only wearing boots, thigh-hugging tights, a white, billowy shirt baring his manly chest, and a sword belt.

More discussion. I was astonished. No one in the room had the same view of the hero that I did. If we had all sat down and done a character sketch, showing strengths and weaknesses, secrets and hopes, we would have ended up with seven very different heroes. And seven very different stories. How fascinating. How wonderful.

But another thing to ponder is that a writer has more ability to direct the reader than the artist or photographer. By fashioning our stories, presenting certain characters and throwing light on their actions and thoughts, we can hopefully guide the reader. We can wring emotions, we can point out truths, we can make a point, state a theme. And while photos and pictures can do this as well, in writing there is less chance that seven different people get seven different points.

Readers may identify with some characters more than others, recognize and emphasize some themes more than others, but all would have the same general understanding of the basic story. A picture is not worth a thousand words -- not when it can't convey precisely what the photographer/artist wants. But when we deal in words, a point can be skewered home.

The critique group never did agree on Mr. January. When we continued to argue, Sharon wisely flipped the calendar to Mr. February. (Note: the cover is for the paperback anthology Tall, Dark, and Dangerous by Catherine Anderson, Christina Dodd, and Susan Sizemore).

"Ugh!" someone said. "Too tough," someone else agreed, as we filed downstairs to start our session.

I looked at him. A Western man -- unshaven, narrow-eyed, and with his hand on his gun-belt. His build, hair and eye color were wrong, but there was something about his expression, something subtle, that reminded me of my last hero. Too tough? Nah.

Animals as Secondary Characters

Hi, I'm Robin D. Owens and I write fantasy romance for Berkley-Penguin-Random House (the "Heart" Series – 13 going on 14). I also write the Ghost Seer paranormal romance series for Berkley (Ghost Seer out last April, Ghost Layer recently released in September and Ghost Killer out next February). I wrote a five book series of fantasy for women (the "Summoning" series) for Luna Books.

I'm known for my animal or Familiar companions, and I'm quite sure that Zanth, the telepathic cat with attitude (redundant), sold my first book, HeartMate. Since then, in the Heart books, I've had kittens, cats, dogs, foxes, a raccoon and a hawk as my Fams – along with a wandering mole, etc.

In my Summoning series I have some magical beings who shapeshift into various animals. Miniature greyhounds and warhawks are the most common, though occasionally they have their catlike moments. I also have flying horses.

These characters are in the books for several reasons: mentors, friends, comic relief and occasionally under threat (they can get into trouble and some go to war). In the Summoning books, they also play a mysterious part in shaping the worlds' events.

You might call them archetypical characters. Mentors who advise (and may have their own agendas which also make them tricksters). Friends who are there to listen or nudge or nag (so, that's still a horse word but at least it wasn't badger...). Comic relief: this I use quite a bit, I like my tension built, released and built again.

The Ghost Seer series has a ghost Labrador as a spirit guide and all around cheerleader.

Things to watch for when you're writing animals. First, my cats are pretty much cats, except they are slightly more intelligent and can speak telepathically. They are self-centered, they live in the moment, they have contradictions in whatever philosophy they have but it has meaning to them at the time. They're vain. They call all cats "Cats," capitalized, and all dogs "dogs," NEVER capitalized. They look down on dogs. And they negotiate payment for favors.

I try to keep my animals close to what they are here on earth, and with those limitations. My puppy in Heart Thief adores her FamWoman...and piddles on the rug. My crippled and starving Noble Hound in Heart Fate resents having to eat leftovers that a hunting cat "generously" gives him. He looks down on cats because they aren't as loyal as dogs. The Ghost Seer dog, Enzo, is determinedly cheerful.

For research...I have cats and my ex-roomie had a puppy. I observed. There is a strategically vital place in my house and each and every one of my cats has found it and held it.

I read a lot of books on foxes and there are some in the neighborhood. Another thing, THE expert on foxes call a noise they make "chortling." Maybe the sound is closer to chortling than the standard, well-known "barking." If I used "chortling," it would pull my reader from the story to think about the word which is not something associated with foxes....

The mole came in handy in a couple of the stories and a fan who liked moles and stuck the idea in my head provided critique and tips.

I have friends who have horses and I studied "natural" horsemanship, went to a horse camp (I live in the city) given by another writer who has Lipizzaners.

So, from my point of view, don't make them too cute, or too smart, and keep them lifelike. People will love them anyway.

May all your writing dreams come true.