Saturday, May 14, 2011

Wildcard Weekend: Oops your pace is off

PHS Editor and Harlequin Historical Author Michelle Styles discusses how you can tell when you might have a pacing problem.

Pacing in a novel -- it seems so simple but it is one of the hardest things to get right. It is also one of the most important things.  As an author you are in control of time and you get to decide to what to put in and what to leave out. Time in a novel does not operate normally. Moments of high tension may require lingering and dull moments where nothing much is happening might not even make it to the final cut. Sometimes though the dull moments simply need to changed into moments of high tension. To complicate matters, the pace you need for a high suspense thriller is different from that intimate somewhat slow pace you need for a small town novel.

Slow pacing is used for character development and when the author wants to explore character development and interior monologue. To create a slower pace -- use longer, more complicated sentences, explore feelings and use imagery.
Fast pacing means action scenes. Dialogue is generally fast pace. It heightens drama. Short sharp sentences or short actions strung together in a longer sentence.  Fast pace can exhaust the reader and it can mean people are not as connected with the characters as incident piles on incident.

Some authors seem to instinctively get the pacing right. However, this could be because the reader only sees the finished product, rather than the draft.
It can be easier to say where an author can go wrong and so if you think your pacing might be off, try checking these things
In the beginning:
1. Check when the main conflict appears. Have you concentrated on the set up rather than the action?
2. Check how much backstory you have at the start.
In the middle:
1. Look for low tension traps such as eating scenes, sitting in cars, having a cup of tea  -- what else is happening and how do they  move the story forward?
2. Conversely do you have too many actions scenes one right after another? Have you allowed your characters to catch their breath?
3. Are the hero and heroine together or apart -- (hint a relationship can't move forward unless they interact)
4. Are they dating? Dates are great to be on, but to read about...well there isn't much conflict.
5. A focus on the mundane little things rather than things which move the romance forward -- everyone is busy doing things that do not move the story forward.
6. Repetition and recapping things that have already happened. The readers do remember things that happened earlier in the book.
7. a sudden huge focus on secondary characters.
Any of those and your middle might be sagging.
At the end:
You need to check is it rushed? Have you gone hell for leather and then stopped abruptly?

Getting the pacing right is not easy. But recognising that you might have a problem is half the battle. Sometimes it is easier to see the pacing is off in someone else's work. This is where the eyes of a critique partner can be invaluble.

Does anyone else know of pacing traps?

Michelle Styles writes historical romances.  How good her pacing is depends on the draft that she is on. Her next book To Marry A Matchmaker is out in July. You can read more about her work on

Friday, May 13, 2011

Must-Watch Friday: Limitless

In honour of Friday the 13th, Riva author Heidi Rice is going a bit off-piste and recommending an edgy thriller instead of a soft and fluffy romance... But there is Bradley Cooper and his blue eyes to keep die-hard romantics entertained.

It has to be said, that while I'm never averse to a bit of Bradley Cooper appreciation (the man is certainly easy on the eye), I did have a few misgivings about Limitless, because it sounded like a fairly guy-orientated thriller, ie: a film with a lot more head than heart. And while it's certainly got a lot of clever ideas, it also has a brilliant moral dilemma at it's certain that kept me on the edge of my seat. Namely, how far would you go to gain and then maintain dazzling success?

The plot revolves around one of those fiendishly clever ideas that sounds simple on the surface — nice but lazy guy gets pill that makes him super-smart and super-successful, but becomes a lot less nice in the process — but then throws up that fascinatingly complex dilemma, not to mention some heart-pounding suspense and kick-ass action. As Bradley becomes addicted to the pills, and the lifestyle they afford him, he is forced to do increasingly seedy things to sustain his supply — hooking up with all manner of low-lifes and corporate sharks (enter Robert De Niro in a soulless cameo which  he pulls off with typical aplomb). And then he discovers that there may be devastating side-effects as well (an almost unrecognisable Anna Friel provides the graphic example of what could go wrong). Will he use up all his brain power and end up old beyond his years, or worse dead?

It's a cautionary tale about the pursuit of success at all costs, designer drug addiction and the amorality of the world's financial community (well, there had to be a banker villain in their somewhere)... Or at least it appears to be right up to the rather annoying ending, which I wasn't convinced by. But you'll have to make up your own mind about that, cos I don't want to give the game away here. Surfice it to say, a lot of people end up dead who didn't deserve it (and quite a few that did), but the film seems happy to treat them as collateral damage.

That said, up until that disappointing and somewhat inconsistent final switcheroo, the film has this brilliant gritty tension about it — cleverly aided by some CSI-style pathology porn. And like all great suspense thrillers, that tension keeps ramping up and up and up, as Cooper's life spirals out of control under the influence of a drug which is controlling him and not the other way around. Not only that, but the adrenaline-rush of watching Brad 'think' his way out of every crisis soon makes the audience as addicted as he is.

And I have to say, Cooper is expertly cast. First as the deadbeat failed writer with a dodgy grunge  hairdo who's too lazy to finish his manuscript (although how he managed to get a publishing contract without having written any of the book is anyone's guess) who quickly finds himself totally out of his depth. And then again as the sleek and super-slick wheeler dealer whose sharp clothes, chiselled good looks and luminous blue eyes hide a hideous secret (Dorian Gray eat your heart out!). I also liked his girlfriend played by Abbie Cornish, who plays the moral heart of the film, but also gets a kick-ass action scene of her own when she has to escape the ruthless assasin Bradley has inadvertently sicc'd on her.

And then of course there's De Niro, sleepwalking through his cameo but still making an impression and Friel - going above and beyond the call of method acting and looking convincing dreadful (can't imagine why they couldn't get a Hollywood actress to take this part?).

Add popcorn and you've got a great Friday Film Night, in my humble opinion.

Heidi is currently hard at work on her latest Riva. Her curent Presents Extra, Surf, Sea and a Sexy Stranger is out in the US, and its linked book, Cupcakes and Killers Heels, is out in the UK as a Riva, now. Come have a natter on her blog, Facebook, website or on Twitter (@HeidiRomRice)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

What are you Reading Thursday - Series Books I'm DYING to read!

PHS editor Donna Alward is back with yet another post about her ginormous TBR that only seems to get bigger...

There are a number of books on my TBR that I'm dying to read. Do you know that I have only bought a handful of books since January and still my bookshelf seems to spawn itself? It is what happens when good friends are prolific and generous - a dangerous combination. So I've got a number of books on my shelf that I'm looking forward to diving into.

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To Marry A Matchmaker - by our own PHS editor Michelle Styles. I'm a horrible critique partner and friend to have it on my tbr this long! That's the next book I'm reading! (this is also my fave cover of all her books!)

The Proud Wife - Kate Walker. I've heard wonderful things!

Champagne with a Celebrity - Kate Hardy (t'other Kate!). I meant to read this after I finished (and reviewed) the first book in the duet, Red Wine and Her Sexy Ex. And it's still on my shelf...

Married: The Virgin Widow and Bought: The Penniless Bride by Deborah Hale. I started the trilogy by reading book 3 first, and now I need to read the other 2 stories!

The Nanny Next Door by Michelle Celmer - we were paired together in March as a Cherish in the UK. I love reading the stories I am paired with!


Soldier on her Doorstep by Soraya Lane. This is super special because it's Soraya's debut with Romance and she was my Pitch Contest winner a year and a half ago with this book. The fact that we're paired together in the UK is icing on the cake. This book hits the shelves in June in the UK.

Those are just the top priority books...I have tons more I haven't even mentioned!

In the meantime, if you're hard up for reading material (haha) my latest release is on shelves in the US, Canada, and Down Under. You can pick up HONEYMOON WITH THE RANCHER wherever Harlequin Romance and Mills and Boon Sweet are sold.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Writer's Wednesday: The 7 C's

If you're a writer, have we got a fab post for you! Welcome back to Paula Graves with a great article on using the 7 C's!

A while back, someone asked me how to organize story ideas into a linear narrative—an actual story.  She was looking for a way to organize ideas so that she could arrange them more easily into a coherent, cohesive narrative.  I answered that I find it helpful to think of your story as a filing cabinet, with seven folders containing the basic structural elements of a story.

Folder #1:  CHANGE

This is your beginning. Every story should start with change, something that happens to knock the protagonist off his current path. A death in the family, a new job, a new boss, a murder, a kidnapping, an illness, meeting an exciting but unattainable girl or guy—anything that changes the protagonist's future and forces him to adjust his life to meet its challenges. The ideas that fit in this folder are some of the most basic—who is the protagonist? What does he/she want from life? What motivates his/her behavior now? What will motivate it when something changes? What's going to be standing in the way? This section of your mental filing cabinet is all about the who, the what, the why and the why not of the story.

 Folder #2:  CHOICE

 With change comes choice. The choice is your second folder. This is the part of the story where the protagonist has to decide how to cope with the change thrust upon him. He may choose to try to delay doing anything. He may jump right in and make a mistake. Or he may do what would seem to be the right thing to solve the problem, only to discover that his choice leads to new problems. But he has to choose to do something, even if it's to do nothing. And no matter what he does, there will be consequences. Consequences challenge the hero to make more choices, which lead to more consequences.


Consequences lead to complications. The deeper the character goes, the more complications arise from his choices and the choices of others in conflict with him. Here is the place in the book where you start adding twists. A villain shows an unexpected side. A red herring emerges to send the hero off into a new direction. Something happens to give the hero unexpected information that changes what he believed in the beginning and sends him moving in a new direction.

 Folder #4:  COMMITMENT

Now that the hero is moving forward at an increasing speed, getting more and more entangled in the consequences and complications of his choice, he has to commit himself fully to seeing the problem through to the end. He's in it until it's solved or he's dead, whichever comes first. In this part of the book, you examine why he's willing to throw himself so completely into the struggle. What are the stakes? Why can't he let go? This is a great place for character revelations and examination of the internal conflict.  And sometimes, it's a way to show that what he's committed to is going to kill him unless he finds a new, better goal.

 Folder #5:  CATASTROPHE

 Or, as I like to call it, the "Oh, crap" moment.  This is the moment when everything goes wrong. When your hero meets an obstacle he can't find a way around. When he reaches the edge of the cliff and there's nowhere to go but straight down. If you've ever seen the movie Lethal Weapon, it's the moment in the desert when Murtaugh and his daughter have been captured, and Riggs is trying to figure out how to save them—and he hears that gun cocking behind him, looks up and sees the Big Bad Guy. "Oh, crap." There's a reason this is called the Black Moment. It's got to be significant. It has to seem insurmountable.

 Folder #6:  CLIMAX

 This is my favorite part of the book. It's the time when your characters get to show what they're made of. They face the obstacle with their chins held high, ready to fight to the death (figurative or literal) to reach their goals. Everything they've learned over the course of the book—about trust, about courage, about love, about strength—come into play in this moment. They can face this moment now because they've changed and grown over the course of the story. If this moment had happened at the beginning of the book, there's no way they could have beaten the opponent.

 Folder #7:  CONCLUSION

This is your wrap up. By the time you reach this point, your characters will tell you exactly what they want to happen. They'll have earned their rewards--or their punishments, in the case of the bad guys--and you'll know how to give them what they deserve.

So the next time you're bombarded with a bunch of ideas about your story—but can't quite figure out how to pull all the threads together into a narrative—try fitting your ideas into one of the 7 C's.  It just might help you organize your thoughts into an honest-to-goodness story.'

Do you have a favorite way to get started when it comes to telling a story?  Tell us your tricks!

RITA nominated author Paula Graves has a new book on the shelves! Check out THE MAN FROM GOSSAMER RIDGE right now!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Deadline recipes: Kate Hardy’s deadline chicken-and-tomato casserole

I have to admit, we’ve eaten a version of this rather a lot over the last week or so, while I’ve been sorting out my revisions. But it’s an easy, cook in one pot recipe. And an even quicker version is to prepare everything, not bother browning the chicken, shove the lot in a casserole dish and bake it in the oven at 180 degrees for an hour and a half (just the right amount of time to cook a jacket potato, too…).

What you need to serve 4:

500g diced chicken
1 tbs olive oil
1 red onion, peeled and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 yellow pepper, deseeded and cut into strips
1 red pepper, deseeded and cut into strips
1 small courgette (zucchini), topped, tailed and cut into small dice
1 x 400g can of chopped tomatoes in juice

Then the options: tarragon, basil or paprika (depending if you want it to be French, Italian, or Hungarian in flavour).

Heat the oil in a pan; add the chicken, garlic and onion (plus paprika, if desired) and stir until the chicken’s browned.

Add the can of tomatoes with their juice and the rest of the veg, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Five minutes before the end, add the herbs (if using – and if you’re on deadline it doesn’t really matter if you forget).

I normally have accompanying veg in the electric steamer while it’s cooking, so I don’t have to think about it – all I need is the kitchen timer to remind me to move from my desk.

It goes well with couscous (which takes about five minutes to prepare), jacket potatoes, rice, pasta, new potatoes... pretty much anything!


In the US, you can still get a copy of The Doctor’s Royal Love Child (in the first Penhally series); The Fireman and Nurse Loveday (in the first St Piran’s series) is still available on the Mills & Boon website and is in shops in Australia and New Zealand right now.
You can find out more about these books, and Kate, on her website ( and her blog (

Monday, May 09, 2011

Male on Monday - Adventure Heroes

Columnist Annie West explores one of her all time favourite males - the adventure hero.

I was thinking hard trying to choose a particular man to post about today and unable to settle on one. Then it struck me, why settle for one when you can have a whole genre of them! I don't see this as being greedy, but as showing a true appreciation of the type!

As a kid I loved adventure movies. I remember nameless old films on wet weekends where rugged looking men with serious jaws hacked through the jungle or braved crocodile/piranha/leech infested rivers or faced the odds as they trekked across arid wilderness, mountain peaks or enemy territory. They were searching for a lost city or a treasure or to find the father/brother/uncle of the feisty but gorgeous heroine who'd initially resist but finally find herself in said hero's firm embrace. There were shots of broad shoulders and wide hats and a sculpted profile.

Adventure heroes have moved on a lot since then. There are many of the same elements but a lot more besides. On the right is Stewart Granger with Deborah Kerr in 'King Solomon's Mines'. I have vague memories of him being tough and her being feisty but dependent. On the left is one of my fave adventure heroes - Brendan Fraser in 'The Mummy', caught mid-action. It was tempting just to post lots of shots of Brendan F as the intrepid hero but I thought I'd better give some others a look in.

Why do I like adventure heroes? Well of course it's not just because they look good when they're facing down a nest of poisonous cobras or single-handedly rescuing their lover from hostile tribes. Of course it's not. But you have to admire a man who can escape from a burning building no one else could, find a way to deal with a whole horde of venomous/carnivorous beasts or whatever other devious danger the scriptwriters have devised and come out smiling. The adventure hero is, above all, a survivor, especially in stories where secondary characters fall by the wayside, falling prey to various dangers.

But not the hero. Oh, he may come out looking battered and buised. Usually a cut on the lip and a torn shirt. Definitely dirt on those once pristine khakis but despite the bruises, he's still able to tackle the next challenge head on. And of course, being in the jungle/desert/lost tomb, there's no chance for shaving and that rugged jaw really does start to look a bit rough. But when the tough get going these guys really show their mettle.

But it's not all macho muscles in these stories. I love the fact these heroes while strong and hands on, use their brains. They solve problems the rest of use would take years to nut out. They know all sorts of arcane things (and sometimes they're just lucky). Mainly they're quick-witted and intelligent and are able to turn those traits to success. Indiana Jones is a university lecturer as well as a roguish adventurer. In 'National Treasure' there's a mix of museum detective work and out in the wilds adventure.

Of course one of the results of this mix of characteristics is that there's a lot of room for variations on the theme. If you've seen 'The Librarian' you'll know the hero isn't the man to deal with the more physical dangers, at least not at first. He's a nerd. But what's wrong with a nerd who can solve fantastic puzzles and win the day for the right cause? He tries to dress the part but there's no denying he doesn't quite fit the swashbuckling mould of other adventure heroes, yet he's still appealing for all that.

One thing I particularly enjoy about the adventure hero these days is his humour. Whether sly, witty or long-suffering, he appreciates the ridiculous even if the joke is on him. I love humour in a man and, personally I find the mix of wit, strength, intelligence and capability very appealing. And of course there's that strong instinct to protect too. Here's Tom Selleck in 'High Road to China'. Strength and self deprecating humour combined.

How about you? Do you have a soft spot for the adventure hero, whether on film or in books? Or if they're not your cup of tea, why not? Who is your favourite? Should I just have filled this post with pics of Brendan Fraser?

Annie will give away a copy of a signed book from her backlist to one person drawn at random from those who leave a comment.

This month Annie's latest release is on the shelves in the UK. PRINCE OF SCANDAL features a hero who's tough, clever and determined. He wears tailored suits rather than khakis but she has no doubt he'd cope on any adventure. Like the heroes above, he learns through his story to appreciate the true worth of his bride by convenient marriage - at first the most unlikely sort of princess. To read an excerpt or find links to buy the book, visit Annie's website.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Marilyn's Review Roundup

Happy Mother's Day to mothers and grandmothers in North America.

Today I'm celebrating with my mother and my son and daughter.  I was born on Mother's Day and so was my son so we have lots to celebrate.
Mother's Love

Her love is like
an island in life's ocean,
vast and wide
A peaceful, quiet shelter
From the wind, the rain, the tide.
'Tis bound on the north by Hope,
By Patience on the West,
By tender Counsel on the South
And on the East by Rest.
Above it like a beacon light
Shine Faith, and Truth, and Prayer;
And thro' the changing scenes of life
I find a haven there.   Author Unknown

Natalie's heroine Penny liked to be in control but her alpha Carter wasn't going to have any of it!  This was a great book!

Book Description:

Everyone fakes it. Don’t they?
A teenage romance-turned-nightmare has taught Penny Fairburn that faking it is the only way to go. It’s not until she meets gorgeous Carter Dodds and his bullet-proof ego that she realises how wrong she’s been!

Carter can have any woman on a plate, and likes the smorgasbord approach! But after some scorching nights with Penny, ‘no-strings’ Carter has changed his tune – Penny’s not faking anything in his bed, but getting her to admit her true feelings for him out in the real world is a whole new challenge…

Review here

I've been waiting for this series and was thrilled to see the author line up, each of each an All Star and Sarah's Torortured Rake was brilliant!

Book Description:


Underneath the movie star’s good looks is a man battling with the demons of his past. No one knows the real Nathaniel, they only see the pin-up, the man he pretends to be.

Until one night he is forced to rely on Katie Field, an ordinary young woman from a very different world to Nathaniel’s. She may be star struck but she isn’t blinded by the bright lights of fame. Can Nathaniel trust her enough to reveal the man behind the mask? Let the seduction begin…

Review here

Until next Sunday,

Marilyn at Marilyn's Romance Reviews