Back to the Book List

I advertise this as the list of books from the California Dreaming’ Writers Convention, but I am dipping in to all the workshops I attended as well. It’s very hard to separate them. And I am a total noob at conventions like this. Put me in a science fiction fantasy horror steampunk anime convention, and I know the ropes. But, well, things were in the brochure that were invitation only. One had to win a place in the sessions at the drawing held that morning. One event caught my eye, and even though it was scheduled late in the day, I went to the suite to hear M.A. Taylor sharing Cop Tales. Oh,yeah, this lady is who I want to be when I grow up! I crashed the event, but luckily someone who had actually won a ticket could not make it, so I was allowed to stay. I am not likely to ever write a cop story, but I may have a detective wander into a story. The most important thing I learned was that the San Bernadino International Airport is favored over LAX by many celebrities and sports teams.

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My roommate at the hotel is an excellent writer, and I am looking forward to reading her whole catalogue of Regency romances, and her medieval romance, Red Wolf’s Prize by Regan Walker. Regan takes historical accuracy very seriously, which delights her fans. While we talked about books we liked to read and our interests in romance, Regan recommended the Brotherhood of the Blood series by Katheryn Smith. Definately on my reading list.

Sunday was the last day of the convention, so programs and workshops were only planned until noon, then a nice lunch, and then the Book Fair. But the last three workshops provided lots of good information.

I sat in on Sweet to Spicy: Writing Historicals That Sell. The presenters were Janet Tronstad , Debra Mullins , and Kate McKinley . Janet Tronstad is amazingly inventive, in my opinion. She created the town of Dry Creek, Wyoming, for contemporary western romances, and then created the early days of Dry Creek, for historical romances. In order to work in some steamy sex, her heroine is know throughout the small town for a scandal in her youth. That sort of thing works in the American West setting. But to make it as a reporter for the town newspaper, she must be a proper lady outwardly, and ready to love her man in private.

The historicals have a very strong focus on one community, maybe one family, and one couple. Kate McKinley’s “Duchess in the Dark” uses mistaken identity to get the couple together, and then takes us on a wild ride to keep them together.

Debra Mullins uses an old Scottish curse that won’t go away until a certain clan chieftain finds and marries the daughter of the woman who married the wrong man. “The Night Before the Wedding” has a touch of paranormal without leaving the romance behind.

These authors recommended keeping your book type narrow and specific until you have established your brand. If you write Regencies, stick with that. If you create Westerns, keep that going. As to research for these stories, start in the Children’s Books section at your local library. One of them needed a cut-away drawing of the decks of a ship from a certain time, and found exactly that in the Children’s books.

Other things that came up in the workshop were the fact that Mail Order Brides should be used more often, as so many women out east could not find husbands after the Civil War. And the men moving west needed to start a family if their farmstead was going to prosper. Strangers in love. And that WalMart is the biggest customer for all the publishing houses, and they currently are asking for Western Historicals. What are you waiting for?

Looking back on the weekend, I am thrilled that I chose Beth Yarnall’s workshop on Making Descriptions Work Hard for You. She really knows her stuff, and is very patient in presenting it. As the founder of the Orange County Lady Jane’s Salon , she is used to speaking and reading to interested fellow authors. She absolutely knew which quotes to use, like Description starts in the writer’s imagination but ends in the reader’s. And Stephen King’s saying it’s not you describing, but your characters.

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I know I am guilty of skipping description if there is too much, more than I think I will need. But characters don’t spring from the ground, fully formed. (It only seems like they do) They have back story and experiences that shape how they see the world. No two people will see events in the same way.

Gender has a lot to do with description. Men use fewer adjectives, shorter statements, and calmer emotions, usually. Be sure you are filtering through the head of the Point of View character. The longer you are in the POV character’s head, the more attached the reader will be to that character.

Remember to use all five senses in each scene, maybe not all at once, but we notice smell and sounds as often as we see things. Use those senses more. Adverbs are not good except in description. Mark Twain said – Use Damn instead of very. That way the editor will take it out, and your writing will be better. Make sure you know how to show, not tell. Watch filter words like felt, saw, thought – those are telling words and filter the action, taking us a step back from the POV character’s head. Keep your writing as active as possible. And think of how to improve the words you use. Which makes you feel warmer – He held the baby. He cradled the baby.

Don’t tell us what a character is feeling, show us the symptoms, the physical reactions. You can find lots of web sites and blogs on body language, use those to punch up the moment. Now here is your homework. Go through your current work in progress and highlight all the descriptions. Less in certainly better.

Here are the books that Beth used and read from, and they will be read by yours truly:

Beth Yarnall Rush A Deep and Dark December
How to Bake a Perfect Life by Barbara O’Neil

Scandal of the Black Rose by Debra Mullins

Angel Fall by Susan Ee

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Dirty Red by Tarryn Fisher

A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare

Opportunist by Taryn Fisher

Tempting a Proper Lady by Debra Mullins

Opposite of Invisible by Liz Gallagher

How to Misbehave by Ruthie Knox

Arson by Mia Asher

I misheard one of them about Texas – Head in Texas? Anyway here’s a great romance that take place in that state.

The last “workshop” consisted of two firemen showing off their equipment and using it on an innocent woman. Since they didn’t recommend any books, I am going to keep all that fun for another time.

Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Sunday with more of what I learned at the convention.

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