A Writer’s Life: Plotting, with Helen Bianchin

This fabulous (italics mine because I think it’s fabulous – Ed.) article first appeared in the September 2016 edition of Hearts Talk, the journal of the Romance Writers of Australia.  For more info on the column, and on RWA membership, see the end of this post!  But for now, over to Helen…


Plotting with Helen Bianchin

I spent the first year of my writing career convinced a book had to be written from page one through to the end. I stalled so many times, eventually threw my hands in the air, muttered something pithy in Italian, then vowed out loud: where does it say there’s a rule a book has to be written consecutively from start to finish?

Remember, in the early 1970s, there were few ‘how-to write’ books around, and the only other M&B authors I knew were Essie Summers and Gloria Bevan. That was until one day Robyn Donald and her husband were in Auckland, discovered there was only one Bianchin in the phonebook and rang me. They visited that very day, and a friendship was forged, which has lasted until the present. Not long after that, Daphne Clair began her Ring o’ Roses newsletter and there was contact!

I tried the pantser route way back when, and ended up with sentences, paragraphs, pages all over the place. Soon I discovered it was a method that didn’t work for me.

What did work was to choose a premise (or it would choose me) and I’d make notes, choose names, setting, get it all handwritten into a notebook, think about it (including procrastination), compose a supposedly perfect scene on the edge of sleep, positive I’d remember it in glorious detail on waking the next morning. Yes, well, we know how that goes…

Through trial and error, I discovered I think in scenes—usually out of sequence. I have to say curling up in a comfy chair with pen and notepad works. The ideas happen and I scribble them down. Then I key them into the computer while the ideas are fresh and there’s hope I can decipher my scribble—or at least get the gist of it, editing as I go along, expanding, enhancing, numbering each draft scene before printing it out. It’s a weird method, and you wouldn’t believe how many times I vow to discard it and write in a professional manner (whatever that is!)

However, I have tried other methods. I know Joy Dingwell used to hand-write on the right side of a lined notebook—mainly all dialogue—then she’d go back and handwrite on the left side of the lined notebook the emotional bits, the scenery, etc. and balloon each bit into where it should fit. When the handwritten notebook was complete, she’d edit, add, then type it all out on an old typewriter in what passed for MS format at that time.

I know of authors who have adapted a similar methodology with handwriting on the right side of a lined notebook (or unlined) and use different-coloured sticky-pad sheets containing handwritten emotion, scenery etc, high and low points, and stick them onto the left side of the notebook. At least with the latter, the sticky-pad sheets can be easily moved and switched around. When the current long-languishing MS is finally finished, I think I’ll give this method a try.

Others use a whiteboard—I think if I tried that, I’d end up erasing something deep and meaningful to be lost forevermore.

Then there’s Scrivener. Some authors swear by it. Others try it and decide it’s not for them. I bought the program with the intention of trialling it when the long-languishing MS finally travels through the ether to London. I even upgraded to the latest version. I’ll let you know how I go (just don’t hold your breath!).

I must admit I witness the published output of varying authors and wonder if they sleep. Writing must occupy every waking minute of their lives…or they have glorious brainpower whereby they key in the right words with the speed of light.

In conclusion, there is no right way. There’s only your way. Even so experimenting with different ways may work really well.

– Helen Bianchin


A long-time bestseller for Harlequin Mills & Boon, Helen Bianchin’s books are sold in 26 languages in more than 109 countries. Helen is much beloved in the romance writing community, and was RWA’s first-ever Hall of Fame author. She’s always been a huge supporter of new writers as well as established authors and still participates on the RWA email loops.

Anne Gracie’s A Writer’s Life is a regular column featured in Romance Writers of Australia’s monthly journal, Hearts Talk. Packed full of articles on craft, the publishing industry and interviews with romance authors, Hearts Talk is a valued and much-loved benefit to your RWA membership. If you’re not already an RWA member, join up here [http://www.romanceaustralia.com/p/99/Join-RWA].


A Writer’s Life: Social Media, self-doubt and creativity.

Anne Gracie’s A Writer’s Life is a regular column featured in Romance Writers of Australia’s monthly journal, Hearts Talk.  This peek into DB Tait‘s writing life first appeared in the October 2016 edition.  Packed full of articles on craft, the publishing industry and interviews with romance authors, Hearts Talk is a valued and much-loved benefit to your RWA membership. If you’re not already an RWA member, join up here [http://www.romanceaustralia.com/p/99/Join-RWA]. 


Social media, self-doubt and creativity

Back in 2004 when I started writing seriously, the internet was a great source of information about the craft of writing and a whole range of other writing-related issues. I started out not particularly wanting to write in romance as a genre, just wanting to write something. But I noticed that everything I wrote had a romance in it or a romantic theme. So I googled, found the Romance Writers of Australia, joined and found a great community of like-minded writers.

I learned a lot. Some things were invaluable, like point of view and avoiding head-hopping, and others were not so useful, like never use the word ‘was’ because this indicates passive writing (it doesn’t). I found out about the business, about editors and agents, and went to conferences. My work then was either erotica or erotic romance and I was published by some erotic lines in the US. Then I stopped writing. Or rather, I was still writing but unhappy with it because I listened to what was being said in the romance and erotic romance world and believed my writing wasn’t marketable (it probably was). Life also intervened with some personal challenges that took me away from writing. I also got a little (okay, a lot) bored with sex.

I knew I had to go back to my first love which was crime writing. But I couldn’t let romance go because I just naturally write stories where people meet and are drawn to each other. So I recreated myself as a romantic suspense writer, or as I prefer, a mystery writer with romantic elements (which is a bit of a mouthful).

I think my involvement with Facebook and other social media increased when I decided to get back to writing seriously. And then a curious thing happened. I started doubting myself again. Doubting myself is a chronic condition with me but I found social media made it worse. I saw other people discuss their work, including their work output, and knew I would never be able to achieve what they did. I saw people win dubious prizes and brag about their position on Amazon and wondered if I should be involved in that. Sometimes I did and then didn’t like myself. Other people marketed their work ferociously, which irritated me but also made me again wonder if I shouldn’t be doing that too.

I do like Facebook. I use it as a watercooler where I can chat with my friends. But I think it increases my anxiety and my sense of lack of achievement.  I start looking at my writing through the lens of Facebook not through the lens of my own creativity.

I am cursed (as are a lot of writers) with a vicious, troll-like internal editor who delights in subversion. I find social media feeds this troll and makes me doubt a lot about what I want to write and how I should or shouldn’t market it. The result is a terrible sense of immobility, a kind of ‘what’s the point’ attitude, which is so far from the sense of joy I had when I first started writing.

So what’s the solution? The first realisation I had is to understand I don’t have the personality to make Facebook or other social media part of my ‘brand’. I’m okay with chatting about the weather and world events, but once I start to think of myself as a brand and have to market my writing, I fall into a kind of existential despair. Other people thrive on creating a brand for themselves. I envy them on some level. I hate it.

The second realisation I had is to truly, at a deep level, write what I want to write. Yes, it’s important to pay attention to the market, but if the market doesn’t sing to you, don’t write for it. For me that means I’m at the romantic elements part of the genre.

My third realisation is to experiment. Never get so caught up in how one should write and what conventions one must follow that writing become a chore and a by-the-numbers dreary task.  I know that’s easy for me to say because writing is not my living (yet!) but I have left jobs when they become soul-destroying.

So, you may be seeing a lot less of me on social media. I’ll still be marketing my writing wares in my usual slapdash way and spending time around the watercooler, but increasingly I’ll be saying goodbye to anything that increases my self-doubt. I encourage you to look at what creates self-doubt in your life and get rid of it. We owe it to ourselves and to the fabulous stories we create.

– DB Tait http://dbtait.com/.

DB Tait has written in a variety of subgenres, including erotica, and now writes crime fiction with romantic elements. A longtime member of RWA, she has recently rejoined the RWA committee after many years of service in the past. Her next publication is Festive Deception, a Christmas novella out this month.


Anne Gracie’s A Writer’s Life is a regular column featured in Romance Writers of Australia’s monthly journal, Hearts Talk. Packed full of articles on craft, the publishing industry and interviews with romance authors, Hearts Talk is a valued and much-loved benefit to your RWA membership. If you’re not already an RWA member, join up here [http://www.romanceaustralia.com/p/99/Join-RWA].


Romance plays a starring role, as do THREE Australian authors (all RWA members!)

I am always fascinated by the huge variation in best-selling and most-applauded books that occurs across the three primary English-language book markets: America, Great Britain and Australia. While there is usually an overlap between the UK and the Australian markets, the American market is quite often so different that I am left metaphorically scratching my neurons and wondering why I am not familiar with titles many of their readers love. You would think that a great book would be a bestseller in all the markets given the language and cultural similarities. Yes, I do know there are differences, but let’s face it, they’re not that challenging. If you were the victim of a time-travel experiment gone wrong that landed you on the set of a contemporary American reality TV show, and you were asked to change a baby’s diaper while riding the elevator, you’d know instantaneously what the task involved!

The differences in reader preferences are front-of-mind for me at the moment because I just downloaded Publishers Weekly’s Best Books 2014. In the general fiction section, I only identified one title I was familiar with – All the Light We Cannot See – before I skipped over to the romance section where I am happy to say I did recognise more titles even although there were still more that I did not know. I spent a happy few hours compiling reading lists and visiting author websites, fortifying myself against life’s daily grind.

Did you know that every year PW receives over 9,000 books to review including self-published titles? Last year, their reviewers gave starred reviews to 1,011 of those books. It sounds like a lot, but it is actually just over 10% of the total, which makes the stars a precious gift for publishers, authors and readers.

Their Best Books 2014 contains all 1,011 starred reviews. It is a whopping 238 pages long. Books are divided by genre and subject matter. Best of all, it’s free! You can download your copy of the full book here or pick up my shortened version starring romance and erotica titles only here.

Overall, seventy-eight romance and erotica titles received a starred review; six of these titles also made PW’s cross-genre Top 100 List – proof, if needed, of the high quality of the writing in our genre.

Aaaaand, ta-da, DRUM ROLLL PLEASE, two Australians (and RWA members!) feature in the starred reviews! Kylie Scott for Lead in trade paperback and Kelly Hunter, whose ebook The Honeymoon Trap not only received a starred review but also made the Top 100 List. (I’ve extracted the reviews of Lead and The Honeymoon Trap at the end of this blog).

OOH: UPDATE! Just realised (thanks to Keziah Hill) that another RWA member, Bec McMaster, is also among the starred reviews with the fourth in her ‘London Steampunk’ series, Forged by Desire.  I’ve reproduced her review at the bottom of this post as well.

The other Top 100 romance titles are:

  • Bitter Spirits written by Jenn Bennett and published in paperback by Berkley Sensations (historical, roaring twenties);
  • Craving Temptation written by Deborah Fletcher Mello and published in paperback by Kensington/Dafina (contemporary, cultural and political conflict);
  • Somebody Like You written by Beth K. Vogt and published in paperback by S&S/Howard (contemporary, inspirational);
  • The Submission Gift written by Solance Ames and published as an ebook by Carina Press (contemporary, erotica); and
  • Sweet Disorder written by Rose Lerner and published as an ebook by Samhain (historical, Regency romance).

Do you like discovering new authors, or do you prefer to stick to old favourites?

PW Review of Lead by Kylie Scott

Scott’s third Stage Dive contemporary far outclasses the other two with a surprisingly delicate look at the underbelly of American rock and roll. Jimmy Ferris is the lead singer of a rock band; his brother, David, was the protagonist in Lick. Throughout the series, Jimmy has been a source of worry as he battles substance abuse. Lena Morrissey was quietly introduced in Play as a tough-as-nails lady with the thankless full-time job of keeping Jimmy sober. Scott has hinted that the answer to Jimmy’s trouble would come

through love, and here she delivers on that tantalizing promise. Instead of avoiding the tedious and heartbreaking work of sobriety, she goes deep into the isolation and private pain, showing how the cruel kindness of firm-handed love can save a life. While retaining her mischievous and wisecracking signature style, Scott has also brought a tenderness and honesty to the material that is truly delightful.

PW review of The Honeymoon Trap by Kelly Hunter

Hunter tells this tiny jewel of a tale with an unabashed gusto that matches her heroine’s sparkling panache. One of Eli Jackson’s best friends is Fuzzy, a fellow gamer he hangs out with online on Friday afternoons for an hour of role-playing games and light chatter. When Fuzzy, also known as Zoey Daniels, shows up in the irrepressible flesh (and a delectable purple gown) at a gamers’ convention on Australia’s Gold Coast, Eli is shocked by their instantaneous sexual connection. But the obstacles to romance are significant: Eli still isn’t over the death of his previous girlfriend, and Zoey has a few issues about which she’s being uncharacteristically discreet. The emphasis is on startlingly direct communication and the headlong rush of impulse, leading to a marvelous, funny whirlwind of a romance.

PW review of Forged by Desire by Bec McMaster

McMaster’s fourth Steampunk London novel (after My Lady Quicksilver) once again captivates readers with evocative and sensual imagery with exquisite descriptions of life in a lush and intoxicating alternate Victorian London. Perry Lowell was once a thrall, a human blood slave to a member of the vampiric aristocracy known as the Echelon. She escaped her captor and found safety in employment as a Nighthawk guard. A female Nighthawk is rare, but Perry insists that everyone ignore her gender. Nonetheless, Garrett Reed, her partner, finds her staggeringly attractive. When two of the Echelon’s debutantes are murdered, Perry is struck by strange recollections of her past. As more macabre discoveries are made, Perry starts to wonder whether they are connected to the horrors she suffered. McMaster outdoes herself with this strong installment. The heady romance and dark suspense keep the pages turning, and a cliffhanger finale sets the stage for book five.

Australian Love Stories: do you have one to share?

Inkerman and Blunt (publishers) are in love with love.Inkerman and Blunt logo

Well, so it seems, anyway.  And not just any love, but specifically, Australian love.

Last year, Donna Ward from Inkerman and Blunt published an anthology of Australian love poetry.  This year, she’s moving on to short stories – and wants to see yours.

The stories must be short – no more than 3,600 words – and for this collection, they are looking for stories of amatory love (more on this below).  For full submission details, see the information on the Inkerman and Blunt website – but don’t delay: entries must be postmarked by the 28th of February 2014 (and yes, that does mean hard-copy submissions only).

The anthology will be edited by award-winning Australian short-story writer Cate Kennedy.  Naturally, when a writer and a publisher get together with love on their minds, there must be a story that goes with it.  We’ll let Donna tell it… (more…)

A Tale Of Three Publishers with Amy Andrews

It’s a brave new world in publishing.  New boutique publishers, traditional publishers’ new digital imprints and self-publishing are offering authors more options than ever before.  But what is it like to juggle multiple options?  We invited RWA past president, Amy Andrews, to tell us…


Firstly, let me just say how thrilling it was to attend the Gold Coast conference this weekend just gone. I’m suffering from beach and female-chit-chat withdrawal and my bed just wasn’t the same last night after the cloud-like comfort of my giant one at the QT.

I’m so excited about the absolute buzz that pervaded the conference – that it’s never been a better time to be an author (particularly a romance author) with all these new options open to us. New digital lines both here and overseas and finally finally Australian publishers telling us – we want your stories!

Yes, we have choices now. And you know what? You’d be mad if you didn’t explore and grab hold of every single one. The key, these days, to longevity in this business is diversifying. And I’m happy as a clam to now be working with three publishers.

So who are they and how do they stack up?

Entangled Publishing –

In case anyone didn’t hear my squeeeeeeeeeeeeeee from the bar on Sunday night at the conference, my Indulgence published by Entangled Publishing has just gone live. Taming the Tycoon had a gooooorgeous cover and well, who doesn’t love a good tycoon?

Entangled are the new kids on the block but they are making a huge impact with phenomenal success. They are young and smart and small enough still to be quick and nimble and their willingness to adapt swiftly to market has been inspirational. And their philosophy of “no book left behind” is heart-warming to authors who have suffered through decades of “throw it against the wall and see if it sticks”. I cannot speak highly enough of my experience with them.

Harlequin –

I’ve written 29 books, both for the Medical and RIVA/Presents Extra/KISS lines for this hugely successful international publisher. HMB have defined “romance” for decades and need no introduction. One of the highlights of the conference was receiving my 25th pin on Thursday night at the Harlequin authors dinner which included some lovely words from my gorgeous London ed Lucy. For eight years they have taken my stories to the world – THE WORLD – with translations in over a dozen languages. In a world dominated by the 50 Shades hype that tells you you’re intellectually inferior to enjoy romance, I have loved being part of the Harlequin family and am proud to call myself a Harlequin author.

Harper Collins Australia –

Writing single title is an entirely different beast to writing category romance but some things never change – the relationship with your editor. And working with Anna Valdinger on the tandem novel Sister Pact I wrote with my sister has been a truly wonderful experience. From edits to story direction to cover concepts it’s been an interesting ride being out there in the Australian market with all the other “big” books but she’s been with us every step of the way. The local market is much smaller and much, much harder to “crack” and that had been a true learning experience. But I’m so happy that it’s opening up to more of us.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have three different, diverse publishers who are invested in me. Me. So my advice is to get yourself out there and take advantage of all the new choices that are around today. And don’t lock yourself in to just one place. Once upon time that was the done thing but remember, this is your career and you have to do what is best for you.

And sometimes that means sharing the love 🙂

Amy Andrews writes category romance for both Harlequin and Entangled and contemporary women’s fiction for Harper Collins Australia under her real name Ali Ahearn. She was on the RWA national executive for six years during which time she organised two conferences and undertook a two-year term as president. You can read more about her at www.amyandrews.com.au

Choc Lit: Romance Publisher looking for an Australian Star

Choc Lit is a UK Romance Publisher recently launched in Australia and they are, in their own words:

looking to add some Aussie heat and glamour to our tasty selection of fiction and we’d like to find the next Australian star author.  Dream of being published internationally? Write romance with irresistible heroes? Then this could be for you.

[Links to submission criteria and more info below. Ed.]

Since this sounded like an opportunity that might be of interest to our members, we thought we should find out a bit more about Choc Lit.  Imelda Evans (Blog-girl and RWA member about town) put Luke Roberts, from Choc Lit into her interrogation chamber interview chair and here are the results:

Choc Lit is an interesting name.  Is there a story that goes with it?

Glad you like it!  (Well you said, it’s “interesting” anyway…) Yes, there is a story. The MD of Choc Lit, Lyn Vernham, was discussing the name Choc Lit with a colleague, when they were thinking of starting the company. Lyn was sure it would be taken already, but a quick check revealed the name had not been trademarked. The idea, beyond the play on Chick Lit, was to match chocolate to particular heroes from the romance novels the company publishes. This led to the company strapline, “where heroes are chocolate- irresistible.” As most women like romance and chocolate, the name seemed, and still seems to be a winner. We have worked with a number of chocolatiers in the UK to match their cocoa treats with our tasty heroes. No Choc Lit book launch is complete without some chocolate for people to sample.

How would you describe Choc Lit?  What can people expect of your books?

Choc Lit books are innovative and fun. They are prepared to try new ideas, both in the material they publish and in finding alternative or unusual routes to market. Choc Lit books always incorporate a male as well as a female point of view. You get to hear from the heroes in Choc Lit books and gain an insight into what they’re thinking. In terms of genre, we’ve made an effort to cut loose from the somewhat formulaic plots and horizons to which romances have traditionally adhered. Choc Lit books incorporate comedy, historical settings, paranormal and timeslip elements into the stories, but there’s always romance at the core. We try to do the unexpected to some degree, and some reviewers have picked up on this. The Daily Mail newspaper in the UK, for example, was surprised by the graphic scenes of conflict in Margaret James’ trilogy about a British family living and fighting through World War I and II.

Where did Choc Lit start and where are you operating to date?

Choc Lit published their first book in Dec 2008. By the end of 2011 we had published 15 books. We now publish a book a month, and most of our titles are available in our chief markets of the UK, America and of course Australia, which we are very excited about! The goal is to produce two books a month by the end of 2013. In terms of where we operate physically, (because more and more of the book world is going online), Choc Lit HQ is in the lovely countryside of Surrey, in south-east England. Our novels are now distributed worldwide and we are seeing an increasing number of foreign language and translation rights requests.

How long has Choc Lit been publishing?

Oops. Already answered that! Our first book was The Importance of Being Emma by Juliet Archer, released in December 2008, followed by Starting Over, by Sue Moorcroft. The Importance of Being Emma is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s classic novel Emma. Juliet does a great job of getting inside the hearts and minds of Jane Austen’s heroes. Sue has helped establish our contemporary fiction titles, and Starting Over features one of our most sought after heroes! Since these first two books, we haven’t looked back.

What formats do you publish in? Trade, mass-market, e-books…?

All of them. Publishers have to take all these formats seriously at the moment, although ebooks are proving to be the growth sector.

Who is your target audience?

We are aware that it’s mostly women who read our books. And that includes adult women of almost any age. Some of our books, like The Untied Kingdom by Kate Johnson, a satirical tale of the United Kingdom as a third-world nation in a parallel universe, are more popular with young women aged under 35. But a lot of our historical fiction, like Christina Courtenay’s award-winning adventures in diverse lands, have a more mature readership. And we mustn’t forget to exclude the men. We know that some men are reading our books, and good on them, we say.

Can you give us some representative examples of Choc Lit authors?

Choc Lit publish new or developing authors and we believe in all of them absolutely. No one Choc Lit author represents the brand, or some would say publisher, better than any other. You’d have to look at www.choc-it.co.uk to see them all. We work very much as a team. It may sound strange, but we even call it the Choc Lit family. All the authors are excellent at supporting one another and getting more savvy with social media, marketing and creating sales opportunities by the day. Some of the authors have been winning prizes. We’ve won 7 in the last 18 months. That’s a great endorsement for some of them, and we’re only sad that there aren’t enough prizes for everyone to add at least one to their trophy cabinet. They all deserve some silverware!

I see you have launched in Australia.  What does that mean to your sales here?  Will your books be in bookshops, available online and/or elsewhere?

Yes. We’re delighted about this. It’s a real opportunity and folks in Australia have been so welcoming. We’re being distributed in Australia by Alpa Books. Our books should be available via the full gamut of bookshops, online retailers and  also at certain conferences. If they’re not, speak to Alpa or the bookshop manager! As we’ve only just launched in Australia, we think it will take a while for books to be available through some channels, as this always takes longer than we hope. But everyone that asks for a copy of Please Don’t Stop the Music, the UK’s Romantic Novel of the Year 2012, or any of our books in their local store, helps get the distribution chain moving. Our latest title to become available in Australia is Evonne Wareham’s book, Never Coming Home, which has just won The Joan Hessayon Award fort promising new writing. Look out for that one.

Obviously, you publish romance. Do you publish other genres? Do you publish all the sub-genres of romance, or do you have a preference?

We will not exclude any subgenre of romance. If the book is well written and it gains favourable reviews from our Tasting Panel of independent readers, there’s a good chance we’ll publish it. They are quite picky and have eclectic tastes. It so happens that we have published contemporary, historical, comic, paranormal and timeslip romances to date. We do have something of a preference for books which have a clear love of and characterisation of place, as well as powerful chemistry between the hero and heroine. This is especially evident in Chris Stovell’s books, and you’ll find this loving rendering of all the things which make a place what it is, in the books of forthcoming authors like Liz HarrisLinda Mitchelmore and Henriette Gyland.

You’re running a search for an Australian romance writer.  With regard to that, who is eligible? Published or unpublished?  Any other criteria?

Well, the full details are available at http://www.choc-lit.co.uk/html/search_for_an_australian_star.html but to answer your questions succinctly, both published and unpublished authors are eligible, although the manuscript must not be under consideration by other publishers, nor be a repeat of any previously published material.

All submissions must meet our submission criteria and be received before 31st August 2012. The winner will be announced December 2012. To be eligible to enter our Search for an Australian Star competition, you must live in Australia.

What do you want to see from entrants? 

In terms of length we are looking for 70,000 to 100,000 words. Subgenre is not important, a fabulous story and great romance is what we are looking for.

Is there anything you don’t want to see?

Badly written manuscripts, heroes and heroines who get it on by the third page, characters who seem to be carbon copies of well-known characters we’ve seen/read elsewhere…

How should people submit?

We’re looking for a synopsis and a little information about the novelist. This needs to be emailed to submissions@choc-lit.com by 31 August, 2012, but we’d advise looking at the full submission guidelines first.

How is the competition judged?

The strongest submissions will be read by our Tasting Panel of independent readers. They will draw up a shortlist of 3 candidates. This is quite a democratic process, as there are 50 members of the Tasting Panel and they all have different tastes and opinions. We are exploring putting the 3 candidates forward for a public vote, to be hosted by the Australian Romance Readers Association website.

What does the writer ‘win’ if they are chosen?

The winner will be offered a contract with Choc Lit, who will market and sell their book worldwide.

Are you open to choosing more than one writer, if you like what you see?

We will choose a winner, however difficult that may be. But if there are other very strong submissions that narrowly miss out, we will definitely be interested in speaking to the relevant authors, about whether we can publish their work a little further down the line.


And that’s the end of the interrogation, interview!  Thanks to Luke for his time and comprehensive answers.  For more information on the search, click the links above, or here.

As with any competition, RWA advises that you read all the fine print carefully and only proceed if you are happy.  Please note that entries need to be submitted by 31st August 2012.  If you decide to enter, Good Luck!

Keep Writing – by Anne Gracie

Today we have a guest blogger, the lovely Anne Gracie, with a post on getting yourself going – just in time for 50k in 30 days!
If you like this, and want more Anne, she is involved in a Winter Writing Workshop this June in Melbourne.  Details at the bottom of this post.

Hi all, Anne Gracie here. I’ve spoken in a few places about the importance of writing regularly — I firmly believe that writing is like a muscle, and the more you do the better you get. The trouble is, it’s sometimes hard to find the time to write.

Or is it?

How much time do you really need to write?

I take quite a lot of writing classes, and in almost all of them I ask participants to do at least one writing exercise. To start with, we talk about some idea, toss around a few possibilities to get the mind spinning, and then I say, “Write.” (Oh, the power <g>)

And for 10—15 minutes, people write. Sometimes it takes them a few minutes to get going, sometimes there’s a false start or two, but usually after a few minutes everyone is writing. And by the time I say “Stop.” most people aren’t ready to stop — they could go on for quite a bit longer. But in that 10—15 minutes most people write around a page — some do more, others less, but for most people, it’s around 250 words.

If you wrote 250 words a day every day for a year, you’d have a novel.

Or, to put it another way, if you wrote for 15 minutes a day, every day for a year, you’d have a novel.

Ok, you’d probably need to put in some longer stints, and do some rewriting, but the hardest thing about starting writing is . . . starting.

I know. I’m a champion procrastinator. I tend to put off starting, knowing I’m going to be chained to the computer for the rest of the day — or thinking it. It’s not actually true. But even if I’m seated at my computer, all ready to work, I still come up with all sorts of reasons why I’m not going to start writing just yet — I need to check my email and see if my editor or agent has written, I should just pop into facebook or twitter for a moment, after all, social networking is important, etc. — the excuses could go on for hours.

So for me, the way to start is to do a writing exercise of some kind. Just for fifteen minutes.

One of my favorite writing routines is what I call “doing Dorothea.” It’s explained more fully here ( http://www.annegracie.com/writing/DorotheaBrande.html ) but basically it involves doing two planned stints of writing every day. The first is first thing in the morning, and the second is when you make an appointment to write — you look at your schedule for the day and work out a time when you’ll have 15 minutes free to write. And then you keep that appointment religiously.

Once you start doing that for a week or so — the morning writing and the appointment to write — you’ll find that your resistance to starting is slowly disappearing. And your writing muscle is getting stronger.

So most mornings, whether I’m doing Dorothea or not, I’ll sit down at the table, set the alarm for 15 minutes, and write. I’m not a great typist — I’m fast but the typos fly —and for me, handwriting is the easiest because the typos invite in the internal editor, and for this exercise, I don’t want that internal editor anywhere near me. But there’s no right way to do it — go with whatever suits you best.

And by the time the timer goes off, I’m well into the writing zone.

There’s also a secret to making your fifteen minutes really productive.

Remember when I said that in my writing classes, we talk about the scene we’re going to write, and toss around some ideas before we start. It really helps if you can think a bit about your scene before you try to write it. Once you get into the habit of this, you’ll find you can plot while you’re going all sorts of other things, and then, when you come to write, the scene will just flow out of you.

Start by writing a list of “what-ifs” — brainstorming possibilities for the scene.

If you find yourself unable to decide whose point of view, or whether to have the scene on a bus or in the bedroom, or make them fight or make love, just toss a coin and go with the flow. You can always rewrite, and it’ll be stronger for the rewriting.

And if you don’t have a scene in mind, try the “classic” kind of writing exercises:

* mood pieces inspired by scents or sounds or places:

eg the smell of a bakery early in the morning

eg sound of rain on the roof at night, a feeling of safety, a time to dream…

* write an ‘in-the-moment’ piece from your character’s point of view.

Where are they? What are they seeing, smelling , hearing, touching, etc.

* recreate an important memory from your character’s childhood:

– have them tell someone.

* write a conversation between two characters where one of them is trying to conceal something

* a piece of sexy flirting – just hurl the dialogue down. It might sound stiff at first, but soon it’ll flow.

* your character comes into a room unexpectedly and finds. . .

* think about a situation a character would hate and put them into it. Then write the scene.

Start a file of possible exercises. I have a box of little cards with idea and writing exercises on them. There are times when I just want to write something different, and so I pull one out at random and write in response.

It doesn’t matter if you never use any of these scenes — it’s only 15 minutes of your day, and you’ve strengthened your writing muscles anyway and added to your toolbox of writing techniques. But I bet you’ll find that you use a lot.

So start exercising those writing muscles and get into a routine of writing. There’s only one way to write a novel — word by word, page by page, fifteen minutes by fifteen minutes.

Winter Writing Workshop

Anne Gracie is taking writing workshops in Melbourne on the weekend of June 15th—17th, along with Crime writer Shane Maloney and Kate Forsyth.

It sounds like a wonderful weekend of workshops and Melbourne Uni is a lovely venue (Ed.)

More information here:


First published by Harlequin, Anne Gracie is now with Berkley USA/Penguin Australia. She’s a three-time RITA finalist, has twice won the Romantic Book of the Year (Australia) and the National Reader’s Choice Award in the USA, and was listed in Library Journal (USA) best books of the year. Five of her books have received DIK (Desert Island Keepers) status on All About Romance, and she’s been translated into sixteen different languages. Anne is proud to be a Lifetime Member of Romance Writers of Australia.


Hearts Talk Archive – Erica Hayes

Please Note: This article first appeared in RWA’s official monthly newsletter, Hearts Talk, in August, 2009. Due to the passage of time, some information in the article may no longer be relevant. Please ensure you research your chosen genre thoroughly before submitting.




It’s no secret that the paranormal genre is huge. From sexy vampires and werewolves to immortal Highlanders to fairy princesses, from Sherrilyn Kenyon to JK Rowling to Charlaine Harris, readers can’t get enough. The monster under the bed is no longer just the villain or a vile creature to be feared—he or she is the love interest, the heroine, the sexy but deadly hero.

Doomsayers have been predicting the death of paranormal for years, ever since the genre first became popular in the late nineties. But, as a glance at the overflowing paranormal and fantasy shelves in any bookstore shows, readers’ enthusiasm hasn’t waned. The recent paranormal upsurge in television and movies—the Harry Potter and Twilight movies, Supernatural’s monster hunters, Moonlight’s vampire detective, the gritty Southern bloodsuckers of True Blood—has only increased demand.

Which means that editors are still buying. But to stand out in such a crowded market, authors have to present new and exciting ideas that transcend a well-worn genre.

This means reinventions—original characters, new and intriguing creatures, fresh combinations of genres. Paranormal has been crossed with just about every genre you can imagine—comedy, chick lit, horror, science fiction, mystery—and one of the most popular hybrids to emerge in the last decade or so is paranormal’s dark fantasy cousin: urban fantasy.

So what’s this ‘urban fantasy’ thing?

‘Urban fantasy’ (UF) has been used to describe many genre elements, from the subtle, disturbing weirdness of Charles De Lint to the near-future apocalyptic suspense of I Am Legend. But as it’s generally used today, UF describes a specific genre of paranormal fiction that probably had its mainstream origins in Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series, which began in 1993 with Guilty Pleasures.

Common characteristics of UF:

  • ‘kick-ass’ protagonist, usually young and female. She’ll often be a law-enforcement or warrior character, skilled with weapons, or at the very least a strong, take-no-nonsense girl.
  • the protag has magical/paranormal powers or is a paranormal creature (vampire, werewolf, faery etc. or a combination).
  • contemporary big-city setting, recognisable as our own world but with paranormal elements added.
  • mystery or suspense plot combined with fantasy, or with horror to create ‘dark UF’
  • romantic subplots, often with more than one potential love interest.

Recent examples include: Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series, where the heroine is a werewolf motor mechanic; the Fever books by Karen Marie Moning, involving faeries; and the Riley Jenson Guardian series by Australian author Keri Arthur, where the heroine is half-vampire, half-werewolf.

Duh… isn’t that just paranormal romance?

Yes, and no. The two markets often cross over, meaning that the books can appeal to readers of both genres—so publishers will market the books to both. This can confuse writers and readers alike, but it’s a great opportunity for authors to increase their readership.

Key differences:

  • In a paranormal romance (PR), the reader is guaranteed a ‘happy ever after’ (HEA) ending. In UF, the romance is often unresolved, or continuing throughout the series, and the heroine can be involved with more than one hot guy—lucky her!
  • UF is fantasy, and PR is romance. So UF readers can expect less focus on the relationship, and more on the paranormal world-building. In a PR, the two lead characters might get equal emphasis, whereas in UF the focus is on a single main character’s journey.

UF also crosses over into the young adult market, with series such as Holly Black’s grimy Modern Faery Tales and Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy. “The [UF] young adult market is huge,” said Rose Hilliard, editor at St Martin’s Press, “but it’s likely to be glutted in the near future.”

Sounds cool. So, do I have to follow the rules? Hasn’t everything already been done?

Using your imagination is the key to selling in such a crowded market. And with paranormal worlds, you can make up your own rules. You want vampires that sunbake? Go ahead. Reinvent. Just because Edward Cullen sparkles doesn’t mean your vamps have to. So long as you keep the rules consistent, anything goes. So do your research, find out what’s already out there, and let your imagination run wild…

Because the market is so full, the genre must continually reinvent itself to stay alive. After nearly twenty years, even established tropes are open to attack. UF has appeared with:

  • male protagonists (The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, Rob Thurman’s Nightlife, Anton Strout’s Dead to Me)
  • non-urban settings (e.g. the small-town Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris)
  • non-contemporary settings (Colleen Gleason’s Gardella Vampire Chronicles are set in Victorian times. Why not a far-futuristic UF?)

And you can write about any paranormal creatures or powers you like. Witches, fairies, psychics, telekinetics, werecats, gods and goddesses, valkyries, banshees, selkies, dhampirs, angels and demons, and even zombies feature in UF. “Vampires and werewolves are still the most popular, but publishers are very picky since the competition is so stiff,” said Rose Hilliard. “I think there’s a lot of room for new authors writing about something besides vampires and werewolves, or who want to take the urban fantasy formula and add a new twist, like a male main character or connecting the [series] in some way other than just following the same female character the whole time.”

So the more heavily explored themes are still wildly popular, especially if you can give them that fresh, high-concept twist. But anything is fair game. And don’t forget about mythologies other than Judeo-Christian. Eastern, Native American, Australian Aboriginal… the choices are endless.

But… vampire romances. Ugh! Do I have to write alpha heroes?

No! A lot of UF does feature the traditional tortured immortal hero, and he’s as sexy—and as popular with readers!—as ever. But the dominant character in UF is usually the heroine, and she’s a determined, self-reliant girl who doesn’t need a man, even if she wants him pretty bad…

UF readers want strong, motivated female characters, but that doesn’t mean every UF heroine has to be a knife-wielding, martial-arts-expert vampire hunter. So if you’re writing a brawny alpha hero who can overpower her, that’s okay—but you’d better make sure your heroine is more than his match in her own way.

How long is an urban fantasy?

In romance terms, UF is a single title market. So anything between 80-100K fits. Publishers tend to prefer series — based around the same paranormal world, usually with an ongoing main character, but sometimes with new characters in each book.

But I’m not an erotica writer —do I have to write explicit sex scenes?

Lately, paranormal subjects have lent themselves to higher levels of sexual content. But as with PR, heat levels in UF range from full-on erotic (such as Laurell K Hamilton’s Merry Gentry books) through to mild. In UF, there’s no need to fully resolve the romance in every manuscript—but in general, readers prefer some kind of closure. If the series isn’t over, some hints that the romantic relationship will reappear in future books will keep readers wanting more, and will help the story cross over into the romance market.

Do I have to write fight scenes? How graphic should the violence be?

Again, no fast rules apply. But a common UF theme is the necessity and desirability of solving problems with violence, and the heroines are often trained killers. UF is as much about the heroine’s character as it is about the fantasy world. Give her realistic problems in the context of the world you’ve created, and her actions will speak for themselves.

How can I get this stuff published? Do I need an agent? How about e-books?

Despite the doomsayers, a glance at Publishers Marketplace will tell you that New York is still buying UF. “[The UF market] is still going strong,” Rose Hilliard said. “It’s a little more crowded than it was a year or two ago, [but] there’s still room for new authors to break in—as long as they’re doing something special. The mass movement [of authors] into young adult thins the herd a bit, and opens the window for new UF authors.”

The financial crisis might be making publishers more cautious, but there’s always room for that special project, and plenty of agents are willing to take on UF.

E-publishers like Cerridwen Press and Samhain are also looking for UF in their favoured sub-genres, usually with strong romantic elements. Many e-pubs are romance-only, so check to make sure your story fits their lines—UF doesn’t always have a HEA, so it’s not always right for a romance publisher.

As usual, do your research, and check submission guidelines first.

Book number 3 of Erica’s Shadowfae Chronicles ‘Poisoned Kissed’ is out now and number 4 ‘Blood Cursed’ will be available in e-book from August this year.

Visit her at

www.ericahayes.net and


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