Friday, April 25, 2008


For those of you who couldn’t make the historical line chat last Thursday night, we discussed passive voice. Since my wireless kept cutting off and I didn’t get to have my say—and, believe me, I can wax eloquent about weeding out passive voice—I thought I’d post my thoughts here, where no one can interrupt my rant. (LOL)

First of all, I’ll just recap the basics for those who missed the chat. A sentence is in passive voice when the subject isn’t doing the acting. If you’re confused by this, ask yourself: “Who’s the star of this sentence? Who is this sentence about?” Next, ask yourself: “Does this sentence show my star in action?” Let’s start with a simple example:

1) ACTIVE: Leah read the book.
PASSIVE: The book was read by Leah.

Leah is the star of the first sentence, and she’s active: she’s reading. In the second sentence, the book has taken the starring role. That’s fine if it’s a magic book and has plans to entertain her by singing or dancing. Sadly, that’s not the case. Leah is supposed to be our star, but she’s been relegated to the end of the sentence.

Here’s another example:

2) ACTIVE: The wind blew the leaves from the trees.
PASSIVE: The leaves were blown by the wind.

Once again, look for the star of the sentence. This time the wind is doing the acting. When the leaves are put first, the sentence loses its power. [You can, however, give the leaves the starring role by changing the verbs in the second sentence to active voice. For example: The leaves fluttered to the ground. The leaves floated through the air. The leaves drifted in the breeze.]

Here’s one final example:

3) ACTIVE: Fear gripped her.
PASSIVE: She felt afraid.

Who is doing the acting in these sentences? It’s not the heroine. Fear has taken control. So give fear the starring role. Show its power. Which of these sentences feels scarier? Can you see how active voice makes sentences stronger and more immediate?

One good clue to help you identify passive voice is to look for was and were.* Passive sentences may also contain other forms of to be verbs. (Check for am, is, are, or been.) Other verbs that can signal passive voice include words such as seem, appear, and felt. Although was and were are sometimes used in active sentences, 95% of the time (or more), they signal passive voice. Another indicator is the word by following the verb. Look, too, at sentence structure. Often in passive sentences, the subject becomes the caboose added to the end. Most (although not all) sentences in active voice begin with the star. Give the star of your sentence the leading role. Pair him/her/it with a strong, active verb and watch the transformation. Your prose will go from boring to exciting.

Here’s another tip: You can make the verbs stronger in an active sentence much more easily than in a passive one. Try the verbs below in both the passive and active sentences. The verbs fit into the active sentences much better than they do the passive ones. That’s another reason passive writing is weak. Usually a more generic verb sounds better in a passive sentence. So you add to the boredom of a passive sentence with a ho-hum verb.

SENTENCE 1) scanned, skimmed, paged through, slammed down

SENTENCE 2) whipped, shook, whistled through

It’s not easy to make the switch from passive to active, but you’ll be glad you did. Active voice gives your writing an immediacy and an excitement that’s missing in passive voice. For those of you who are still uncertain about changing sentences from passive to active, feel free to ask questions or post comments. If you need additional help, check out the articles in the Greenhouse.

*NOTE: Most often the words was and were signal passive voice, but there are some times when they don’t. For those of you who are just learning to identify passive constructions, I don’t want to confuse you by including those here. Concentrate on the examples above for the moment. In another blog I’ll include info on other uses of was and were and will also explain when to use passive voice. Yep, there are a few times when passive is needed. These uses are few and far between, but they are important. I’ll also add some thoughts on why sentences such as “He appeared to be happy”are NOT good choices. But for now, why not practice writing proactive prose? Your editors will thank you!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Inspiration ... or Plagiarism??

A lot of authors and editors have been asking this question lately. Undoubtedly, plagiarism is on everyone’s minds because of the Cassie Edwards situation a few months back (if you’re unfamiliar with that, simply Google her name. You’ll find more information than you wanted to know.)

If, as the saying goes, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, where does that end and plagiarism begin?

Scenario one: You’ve just finished the best book you’ve read in ages. It had it all, spunky but stubborn heroine, dashing, fearless hero, humor, passion, a villain you loved to hate and a plot that kept you on the edge of your seat. You close the book and sigh. I want to write a story just like this.

Maybe it’s the characters. Maybe you want to write about a heroine who is gutsy and determined and decide to model you character after the one in the phenomenal read.

Maybe the hero was far more alpha than what you normally write, but it inspires you to write a rougher-edged beta than you have before.

And maybe since the hero and heroine were forced into an arranged marriage early on—maybe you’ll do that too, you love marriage of convenience stories, after all.

On the road to creativity, your plot twists and turns—while undoubtedly similar to those of any marriage of convenience story—are purely from your own thoughts and ideas and from brainstorming with your CP’s and friends. Your characters have their own names, appearances and experiences apart from the book that inspired you.

So are you guilty of plagiarism? Nope.

Scenario two: You’ve just finished reading the best book you’ve read in ages. You close the book and sigh. I want to write a story just like this. But rather than rely on your own creativity, you copy entire sections of the other author’s book word for word, changing just the names and a few details—no one will ever notice, right?

Well… you’d better hope not. Because that’s plagiarism. (As defined by Merriam Webster: to steal and pass off another’s production as one’s own

Bottom line is… it’s okay to be inspired by your favorite writers. There are only so many plots out there, after all. Fortunately for all of us, we put our own spin on them and tell our own story in our own unique way with our own unique twists and turns along the way. So relax. There’s a huge difference between plagiarism and inspiration.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Impress Editors and Agents with your High Concept Pitch

Now that conference season is upon us, it's time to dust off your high concept pitches and wow the agents and editors at your appointments. But what exactly is a high concept pitch?

Simply put, a high concept pitch is a one or two sentence description of your book. At first glance, it may seem impossible to shrink your 100,000 word novel down to two sentences, but it can be done.

What makes your book unique? What will capture the editor's interest? There's your starting point. Next, use active and sensory language to make your pitch sizzle. Give the editor the smallest taste of your plot and characters and leave him wanting more. Now isn't the time to give away the farm. That's what a synopsis is for. A high concept pitch should inform and excite. A high concept pitch should be the bare essence of your story, the seed from which all plot points and characterizations grow. Leave the editor thinking, "Wow! That sounds unique! That will appeal to a large audience! I wonder what happens next?"

For a more detailed discussion of high concept pitches, see The Greenhouse on TWRP website. For now, here are some pitches for three well known romance novels. See if you can guess what they are and post your answers as a comment.

1. Recently reunited with her husband after World War II, an army nurse travels back in time to 18th century Scotland where she’s forced to marry a young and noble Scottish warrior.

2. To escape a marriage arranged by her father, a beautiful and spoiled young woman weds a condemned prisoner who later shows up as a bondslave on her father’s 18th century Caribbean estate.

3. A reluctant vampire king agrees to protect the half human daughter of a slain brother.

Helen Andrew
Cactus Rose
American Rose

Monday, April 14, 2008

I Love Historicals-Celebrate English Tea Month

I've always been fascinated by history. As a child, the movies that stand out were Cleopatra and Mutiny on the Bounty (no, not the Clark Gable original, that was long before my time). I loved the exotic settings and beautiful costumes. My first novel, written at age ten, took place in ancient Rome.

When I joined TWRP as an editor last year, I asked for historicals, but they were full, so I became a Floater in contemporaries. I was delighted when I was able to move full-time to historicals, especially the English Tea Rose department. The senior editors are wonderful and helpful, and the submissions interesting. I enjoy losing myself in history. Nothing pleases me more than an author who knows her historical facts and uses them in an intriguing way to enhance her (or his) characters. I just finished editing a novel set in medieval Paris, and this author knew her stuff. It was a pleasure to work with her.

I hope to see a lot more authors submit their richly detailed historical romances to TWRP.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Writing a crimson

Living the Midwest, we can run through some interesting weather. This last week was particularly fun with cold, wet weather. While most of my friends were lamenting not being able to see the sunshine, I found it a great time to be thinking Crimson. The ideas running through my head ventured from Doyle's Sherlock Holmes to Angela Lansberry in Murder, She Wrote to Magnum P.I. to Cierra James's series to Cindy Gerard's series to even a bit of Nancy Drew (yep, I'm still young at heart) to...okay, I could go on forever, especially given some of the great stuff coming out of The Wild Rose Press's Crimson line. (check it out - bad weather or not)

In today's world, there are so many ways to view suspense. There is the physical side of suspense that creates the action. Heroines running for their lives and heros being macho. Then there is also the mental side of suspense. Creating the tension by making the reader use their brain to solve the riddles being laid out by the villains.

I love the opportunity of sitting down with a well-done suspense and forgetting the world for that moment in time. The nice thing about the weather cooperating is that I couldn't do any of the outdoor things I had planned. I had to sit and read - what better gift in our busy world. I am glad to see the sun today but I really enjoyed that little vacation.

As an editor for the Crimson Rose line, I can tell you that we are always looking for fresh new ideas and ways to get the hearts of our readers racing - whether it is the physical or the mental side.

Lori Graham
Senior Editor, Crimson Rose

Saturday, April 12, 2008

An Erotic Secret Amongst Us

I discovered a wonderful book in Scarlet that I wanted to share with you all. The book is titled, Captive Fantasy by L. Rosario, and it is a MUST READ for anyone who enjoys a quirky erotic romance. I will not give too much away but let me tell you that this book captivated from the opening sentence.

Imagine a vampire librarian, Sera, who has never had a legitimate orgasm in her 300 year life! and couple that with a sexually enhanced clone, Valentino, who happens to be a professional love slave. Whoa! Sparks fly, sexual tension builds, and we're off and running.

The characters are wonderfully fleshed out-no pun intended-and the plot twists keep you reading. You will laugh, cry, and cheer these characters on.

I read this book because I wanted to see the difference between my requests for hotter, more sensual subs for Black. Any one who still doesn't know how to differentiate may want to download this gem. It is right up there with J. R. Ward, Black Dagger Series. And, I might mention that, when a buyer purchases this book on Amazon, they will see it classified as such on 'other books customers who bought this book are buying' section!

Anyway, I enjoyed it so much, you bet I'll be looking at more from this author, and she is definitely a wonderful asset to The Wild Rose Press. This book was released a year and a half ago and still the sales are strong. What does that tell you?

Great job, Diana, on plucking this one out of the vast fields of diamonds in the rough and polishing it up.

Cheers, L Rosario! Your characters sparkle and this book is a definite keeper!

Do You Have a Minute?

No, I don’t have a minute or even a second to spare. My life is all planned. But we can’t make time our excuse for not writing. Many of us editors are also authors and between reading and replying to submissions must find time to come out from behind the garden gate and write for our own pleasure. For those authors struggling with time constraints, I’d like to give you some suggestions.

1. Learn to delegate. At first, I thought I had to do it all. I didn’t want to release my workload to anyone in fear that I might have to do it over. (Hey, I’m a Virgo. I like perfection, as some of my authors would agree.) When someone asks if he/she can help, say yes. Don’t be selfish; spread the work around so more than one person can get credit for the job or enjoy the fun.

2. Learn to say no. This one was most difficult for me. I enjoy helping in the community, but I soon learned other people volunteered when I said no. Now I don’t feel as guilty.

3. Write every spare moment. My lunch is thirty minutes long. I’ve learned to work on my writing and eat at the same time. I do not necessarily have to write, but I can read over one of my chapters and make notes in the margins about corrections later.

4. Teach your husband to cook. I’m lucky that my husband is an excellent cook and works out of the home. He volunteers three or four times out of the week to cook dinner if I do the dishes. Washing the dishes is mindless, and I can think about dialogue, plots, subplots, and characters. (No, I don't have a dishwasher. ) If your husband can’t cook, it doesn’t matter. Eat it anyway and smile. If he asks if you like it, be honest. Say you’ve never tasted anything like it before. (You’re not really lying.) This may encourage him to cook more and become a better chef.

5. Encourage your husband to have a hobby. Many hobbies can get your husband out of the house. My husband loves the flea markets and yard sales. Do you know how long he is gone when searching for treasures? I only hope he doesn’t bring anything back I have to clean around later. I’ve reaped the benefits of his quest by having the house all to myself.

6. Pets. Half hour walks with my dog allow me time to think about the next chapter or a difficult passage. My dog doesn’t care that I am not talking as we walk; she is happy to be outside.

7. Make driving to work productive. Are you stuck in traffic on the inner loop or outer loop around town? Use this time to brainstorm. Have a tape recorder handy to record any random thoughts that come into your mind.

8. Allow your children-if you have any- to go to a sleepover. Not only will your children love you for allowing them to go somewhere; you will love yourself for having time to write without chasing after your kids. Caution: Make sure husband is engaged in his hobby 'cause he may have other ideas if you are alone together! Although, that could be considered research. :-)

9. Make the television your friend. No, don’t sit in front of it waiting for an idea, but allow your husband and children to watch their favorite shows. Choose only a few good shows you must watch.

10. And most important. No matter what else is going on, give yourself time every day to devote exclusively to your writing. I have an office in my house, and when I go there I am not to be disturbed. It’s my time alone.

Find those spare minutes in your life and you’ll start reaping the benefits in your writing. Be creative in your use of time as well as in your choice of words.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Spring Conference Season

I can tell its spring. No, not just from the warmer temperatures that have finally arrived in Upstate, NY. No, not from the potholes that spring up faster than the tulips. Not even from the bird chirping or the bees buzzing.

I can tell its spring because the RWA chapters have swung into action with spring conferences. I sent out at least a dozen packages to various conferences around the world this past week. Yes, around the world - I sent a box to RWA New Zealand and to the UK.

RT begins next week and RJ and I will be leaving on Tuesday to head to Pittsburgh for this annual event. Its our first time and we're a little nervous, but also very excited to meet some of our authors face to face and to rub shoulders with other publishers. We are eager to talk to readers and ask them what they like or don't like about our books and we can't wait to talk to everyone about our two year old garden!

A national conference on the size of RWA or RT is something every writer should do at least once. Yes its overwhelming and very expensive but there's such an enormous amount of joy that you get by being surrounded by all these writers. Its a way of waking up your senses and feeding your soul that I have to imagine is almost like a religious retreat. I know the cost, not just the conference fee but the travel, the hotel, the food, the clothes, etc. makes this something completely out of some of your budgets. For that reason, I do think the smaller local conferences can be just as beneficial without breaking your budget.

I know there's some greats ones out there this year, if you haven't signed up for one, look around and see if its not too late. And if you will be in Pittsburgh next week check out the Publishers Spotlihgt on Wednesday at 12:30 with The Wild Rose Press.

Happy spring!


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

April is English Tea Rose Month

I can't tell you how excited I am that April is English Tea Rose Month. I'm privileged to be affiliated with ETea and White Rose, so I feel as if I get to "double dip." March was White Rose month, and we had a winner in our jellybean contest who actually guessed the EXACT number of jellybeans. Kewl! Now, we move into ETea month, and every lover of non-American historical romance is going to benefit. Check out the English Tea section of our store! There's a discount on every English Tea title Even New Releases. There's nothing better than a great read at a discount, don't you agree?

I'd also like to celebrate ETea month by seeing some more fantastic submissions. So, if you write medievals or regencies, Scottish highlander stories, or any other historical romance not set in the U.S.--Send them in!

Nicola Martinez, Sr. Editor
White Rose
English Tea Rose

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Easter is Gone...Not! Announcing a White Rose Short Story Contest

Easter Sunday 2008 has just past--and a lot earlier in the year than usual, too. But, we're already looking ahead to Easter 2009, and I'd like to invite all you inspirational authors--or those who have always wanted to write an inspirational romance--to enter our Easter Lilies Contest. Here's the scoop:

The Wild Rose Press Announces the Easter Lilies Short Story Contest, sponsored by the White Rose inspirational line. We invite you to enter for your chance to win one of three publication slots.

Rules for Entry:
The defining Scripture is Solomon 2:2 "Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the maidens."

Stories should be between 5,000 and 10,000 words. Authors may enter more than one story, but each should be original and never-before-published. Current TWRP authors are eligible to enter.

You may incorporate both the hero's and heroine's points of view, however, as the Scripture is a man speaking of his lady, ideally, these stories should focus on your hero's love developing for his heroine. These stories may be historical or contemporary, but they must be set around the Easter holiday.

In addition to using this Scripture as the reference, some symbol of the Easter Lily must also be incorporated. Easter lilies have long been a symbol of purity, motherhood, the trumpet herald of the Angel Gabriel as he visited the Virgin Mary, of resurrection, and more. (Feel free to research and use different symbols. These are listed as example only).

How you incorporate any of the symbols is up to you. Whether it's an actual flower that the hero gives to the heroine (or vice versa), or a piece of jewelry, or a spiritual experience. The use is up to you. Perhaps your hero is a Christian musician who plays the trumpet. Perhaps your heroine has lily earrings that have been passed through her family. Perhaps your hero had a "resurrection" of his faith through some experience past or present, or maybe your heroine is a mother. How you incorporate the Easter lily symbolism is up to you. It can be subtle or overt, but it has to be there.

Three stories will be chosen, and winners will receive a publishing contract from The Wild Rose Press. Stories will be released in electronic format one per day on the three days preceding Easter 2009.

Entries must be received via email on or before July 1, 2008. Winners will be announced no later than November 7, 2008.

The subject line of all entries must read: TWRP Easter Lilies: [title of entry] [last name of author]
Entries that do not have this subject line will be disqualified and deleted.

In the body of the email include:
Author Name (and pseudonym, if applicable):
One-word description of symbolism used: (eg. "trumpet" "resurrection" "purity" "herald")

Your story should be typed in standard manuscript format and be attached to your entry email as a Word .doc or .rtf file.
Entitle your entry file: TWRP_EL_[name of story]
Send entries to:

You will receive a receipt confirmation email in return.


Happy writing! I hope to see lots of entries. :)

Nicola Martinez, Sr. Editor
White Rose Line
English Tea Rose Line