Sunday, October 30, 2011

Trick or Treat! The Twists and Turns of the Big Surprise!

Happy Halloween! Do surprise endings really surprise? Do you love being surprised and tricked? Do you enjoy being led down a path filled with a string of puzzling red herrings and a frightening cast of characters only to discover that was not where the author was really headed? Or do you like the straightforward ending where you guessed the climax ahead of time and was really satisfied that you had figured it out correctly? You wanted the main characters to get together, you knew he or she couldn’t be the evil culprit, it was a simple but good story and you were pleased when everything played out just as you suspected.

The ‘Boo!’ I’m behind the door ending or the ‘gotcha’ moment can be great, but only if it’s well done. If it’s contrived or feels fake in any way, you’ve lost the element of surprise or diluted it so much that you probably shouldn’t have bothered. A good surprise is often one the reader did not see coming because of misdirection and because of false clues the author planted in a logical, progressive sequence.

For me, I always prefer to surprise. I like twists and turns, I like the tricks because they always turn out to be treats. When you think the book is about one thing, but it really turns out to be about another completely different thing, that’s what makes me want to read more by that particular author. When I first became interested in writing, I loved the clever puzzles of Agatha Christie and the suspenseful menace of Mary Roberts Rinehart. Rinehart wrote sixty novels and was the favorite of American presidents. Crime fascinated her. An editor once said that the key to publishing success was sex and murder. She, like other famous mystery and suspense writers did the ‘clue striptease.’ They revealed only a little at a time. I also enjoyed reading the stories of the English writer Alistair MacLean. In one of his famous stories “The Satan Bug,” you thought the villain had stolen a deadly virus merely to terrorize the English populace. But in reality, the villain only used the virus as a threat to empty the entire city of London so he could steal its most precious treasures. Surprise! This is what got me! The trick won me over and made me a fan of surprise endings for life. If I’ve surprised the reader and made him gasp (in a good way), I feel I’ve done my job.

What’s your favorite trick, your most devilish surprise ending? Fatal Attraction, when Glenn Close playing Alex Forrest shows up at the end to torment poor Anne Archer one more time and then Anne Archer shoots her or…BOO!

Next week: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy--What is Your Favorite Type of Romantic Hero to Read or Write About?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What is Your Heart's Desire? Leave a Comment, Win an E-Copy of “The Montezuma Secret”

Recently, I opened a fortune cookie that read "You will get your heart's desire." In romance, so much emphasis is placed on winning our heart’s desire. But what is that really? It’s not necessarily what your brain wants, but your heart. Is it finding true love, a great career, financial success, regaining our health, having a big family? In other words, it all boils down to happiness. What is happiness?

Is happiness individual prosperity or something else? Aristotle thought happiness was the goal of human activity. You could find happiness only in a life filled with virtue and just actions. President John F. Kennedy alludes to Aristotle when he defined happiness as the full use of one’s talents along the lines of excellence. He thought the Presidency afforded him the opportunity to do just that. Mick Jagger, on the other hand, reminds us that “you can’t always get what you want, and if you try sometime, you find you get what you need.”

My heart’s desire always was and is living the writer’s life with someone I love. Simple, but honest. And I’ve done that, though at times I’ve had to alter that goal to include working at other jobs, while remaining focused on what I love most: writing and romance. So sometimes, I’ve had to live the Jagger philosophy—not necessarily what I want, but enough so that I have what I need.

Romance novels are supposed to end happily, thank goodness. And they usually end with the couple getting it all: marriage, family, success in their careers. That leaves the reader (and the writer) satisfied. But in our real lives, that doesn’t always happen, no matter how hard we try. So how hard is it to attain our heart’s desire? It must be different for everyone, though basically I find we all seek out the same things—health, happiness, love, prosperity. When crimes are committed, they often are because the person lacks one of these things.

In “The Montezuma Secret,” Erica Kingsley must find her heart’s desire. She thinks money is everything, but learns it isn’t. The hard way. And while searching for her own personal truth, she realizes what matters to her the most and finds her heart’s desire.

What is your heart’s desire? EVERY commenter will win a free e-copy of “The Montezuma Secret.” Read a brief blurb and excerpt below.

Hunky Trey Zacco, gritty survivalist and host of the Miami-based Holiday Channel’s hit "Wildman" series and glitz and glamour girl, Erica Kingsley, host of the channel’s "Lap of Luxury" show, are thrown together in the steamy jungles of Belize as a publicity stunt. Erica’s father, Arthur Kingsley, the owner of the Holiday Channel, has proposed the angle, not only to boost ratings, but also as a way to toughen up his spoiled daughter. And Kingsley wants them to search for Montezuma’s lost gold, presumably moved to Belize from the Guatemalan jungle. Zacco cannot hide his resentment at having to share the spotlight with the flighty fashionista Erica, and he locks horns with her every step of the way even as both try to ignore the strong physical attraction growing between them.
But when Arthur Kingsley’s plane crashes in the jungle on his way to film the opening of the show, Trey and Erica launch a desperate search to find him. And when, one by one, members of the camera crew are killed and the equipment sabotaged, Trey and Erica find themselves stranded in the middle of the jungle with sultry producer Morgana Montez, Trey's ex-lover, where no rescue crew can reach them.

Excerpt: “The Montezuma Secret”
Five Stars on and Goodreads

Reappearing ten minutes later, dressed in a tiny gold lame bikini with a fresh layer of lip gloss applied, Erica stopped short at the sight of a half-naked Trey astride his Harley, a pair of sleek wraparound Rayban sunglasses perched atop his head.
Without his shirt and his shoulders buffed to a bronzy glow, he looked like a young Adonis. He fixed her with a mesmerizing gaze, his peacock blue eyes piercing hers, an obvious sexual come-on, she was sure of it. A shock of thick wiry hair flopped forward onto his forehead, adding a charming touch of boyishness that only added to his alluring all-male appeal.
And the way he ogled her in that bikini, she knew he liked what he saw. It hugged every curve, accentuated her ample cleavage and made her legs look as long as an Amazon’s. She felt like one too, brazen, aggressive and totally lacking in inhibitions.
She got on the motorcycle behind him, riding it sidesaddle. This time she needed no encouragement. Her arms flew around his naked waist and she let her long legs dangle so they made contact with his thigh. She leaned forward so her breasts caressed his bare back and when the photographer turned on the wind machine, her long hair flew behind her in the breeze. His body heat and strong muscles acted like an instant aphrodisiac.
The photographer handed them each a glass of champagne in tall crystal flutes and began snapping. Trey could not keep his eyes off her legs, she noted with pride, as the photographer had to keep reminding him to stare into the camera. Finally, he asked them to clink glasses and stare into each other’s eyes. She knew she had him then. She’d apologize to her father later for reneging on her promise not to fall prey to Trey’s charms again.
After a few more shots, the photographer motioned them off the cycle, then removed the vehicle and the backdrop, leaving them awkwardly standing next to one another, half-dressed, champagne glasses still clutched in their hands.
Trey broke the stalemate first and grinned mischievously before downing his champagne in one gulp. Erica copied him and they both laughed. Trey walked over to the food cart next, slathered some caviar on a cracker and popped it into his mouth before pouring himself more champagne and re-filling Erica’s glass.
Suddenly feeling wanton and not the least bit self-conscious, Erica picked up one of the sinfully rich pastries loaded with whipped cream and fed it to him. When some of the cream landed on the corners of his mouth, she wiped off the excess with her index finger and made him lick it off. She watched his tongue slowly swirl off the cream and take her finger in his mouth until he stopped at her knuckle.
“Mmmm,” she purred in approval.
“All right, you two. I don’t want to get out the fire hose,” the photographer joked.
He’d changed the scenery again. An oversized wing chair, one big enough for giants, sat where the motorcycle once stood. The Paris skyline, complete with the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, now served as the new backdrop.
“All right, Trey. Climb up into that chair and Erica, you sit on his lap. Get it? ‘Lap of Luxury.’ And fill those glasses again.”
After pouring them more champagne, Trey clambered up onto the huge chair while Erica held the glasses for him. He gave Erica a careful boost so as not to spill any of the champagne and then she maneuvered herself onto his lap, throwing an arm around his bare shoulder. The liquor had loosened his inhibitions and that was just the way she wanted it. Getting him back again was going to be easier than she’d planned.
Standing on a ladder, the photographer prepared to film some additional promotional spots, this time using a hand-held video camera.
“Feel free to ad lib some dialogue, guys,” he instructed, zeroing in on both of them with his lens. “So far, it’s looking great.”
“Contrary to public opinion,” Erica began, a little giddy, as she downed another glass of champagne, “Trey and I do get along. Even though we’re from opposite sides of the program guide. As a matter of fact, I like wild things and I think wild things like me. Tune in to see the fur fly.”
Trey laughed uproariously at the pun.
“Cut!” the photographer yelled.
Erica inched up higher on his lap, feeling Trey’s swelling erection poking her bottom.
“Do you like it wild, Trey?”
He shifted uncomfortably, suddenly eager to remove her from his lap. He shimmied off the chair, leaving her sitting alone and feeling foolish perched atop the gargantuan thing, still wearing the tiny bikini. She wondered what she’d done to cause such a strange transformation.
Straining to see what was behind Trey’s agitation, she scooted off the chair seat and leapt down, then followed him to the doorway, her high heels clacking on the slick hardwood floor.
Morgana Montez, Trey’s beautiful producer and his most recent ex, stood in the door way. And behind her lurked the threatening hulk of Gordon Gosich.

Next week: Who is your favorite romantic hero type to write about and why?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Stand In for a Dead Man: My Newest Release

Available Now on Amazon and Smashwords

Gunfire erupts on a Chicago sidewalk and controversial secretary of State Henry Landis lies bleeding from an assassin’s bullet. But who really pulled the trigger? GLOBAL magazine reporter Stephanie Bosworth Thornton, the Deputy Secretary of State’s estranged daughter, fears the worst when her dying father tells her the President was actually responsible. She threads her way through a labyrinth of mystery, danger and romance searching for the truth in an attempt to exorcise her own demons of guilt and betrayal. On the way, she meets handsome Danny Flint. But is he only using her to cover up his own involvement in the crime? And as her suspicions mount, her editor and former fiancé, Nick Orlan, warns her to stay away from Flint. But she wonders about Nick’s true motives and still has feelings for him, even though he has a new girlfriend in tow. Stonewalled by government officials, pursued cross-country by unknown assailants, threatened by renegade CIA agents, and even the President himself, Stephanie is caught up in a dangerous web of intrigue that spirals out of control as the story hurtles to its startling conclusion, one almost everyone nearly overlooked.

A horseshoe of humanity began forming around the main entrance to Chicago's famed Blake-Warren hotel. The double doors were still closed, the soft yellow carpeted lobby barely visible through the rain-spotted glass. Metal posts with thick purple ropes stretched in front of Stephanie, where she stood waiting with the rest of the media. Some reporters had TV cameras sitting atop shoulders, others had microphones, muffled from the rain, and pocket tape recorders at the ready, should they catch sight of the controversial Secretary of State, Henry Wadsworth Landis. Electrical cables curled everywhere under her feet, like black snakes on the wet concrete, heavy insulation tape shielding them from the moisture.
She didn't want to be here, but events beyond her control had dictated otherwise. It wasn't the Secretary of State she dreaded interviewing. It was the Deputy Secretary, her father, Jennings Bosworth. Things hadn't been right between them for years, ever since her mother Lois had died. Stephanie blamed him for her suicide and he knew it.
Anticipation assumed a heavy presence of its own, adding to the damp autumn smell and sharp chill hanging in the air. Feverish whispers flew through the crowd like wildfire, in response to Landis' latest bombshell, his questionable call for a worldwide U.S. defense policy. Klieg lights forged a strange daylight glow flashing on and off and the buzzing of the voices around her intensified. Rain dappled the oversized glasses Stephanie wore as she squeezed next to her ex-fiancée and former editor, Nicholas Orlan, and the GLOBAL magazine photographer, Earl Taber.
"Well Radar, what are you going to ask?" Nick asked, huddled inside his customary rumpled khaki raincoat, stained at the cuffs and spotted with rain.
Stephanie flinched at the sound of the familiar nickname he’d given her. Radar. Because she’d always been able to read his mind. She didn’t know if she could do that anymore. "Why is he so confident the President's response will be favorable--"
"And does he feel it's the function of the Secretary of State to make policy without consulting the President?"
"Won't Jennings Bosworth be surprised when he sees who's asking the questions!" Nick teased, but Stephanie ignored him.
She twisted her head to study the twenty floors of the white concrete and smoked glass façade of the newly remodeled hotel, wondering when her father would emerge. Her heart skipped a beat as her gaze returned to street level. The doors swung open and Secret Service agents dressed in bland gray and blue suits wrapped themselves around Landis and her father like a blanket so that only the tops of their heads were visible. She caught a glimpse of Nick's brother, Peter, one of the hotel's security guards, bringing up the rear. Agents continued shielding them when suddenly a mass of bodies surged behind Stephanie, threatening to squeeze her out of position. Flashbulbs popped like lightning and the TV cameras rolled, bathing the scene in a surreal yellow glow.
"Secretary Landis, " Stephanie shouted, holding up her tape recorder, and elbowed her way to the front of the pack with a vicious shove. He glared at her and suddenly her father's face emerged over Landis' shoulder. A split second later, a dozen others drowned out her voice. Her father's eyes widened, registering shock, but raised arms soon blocked her view. Across the street, hordes of spectators booed and applauded, hoisting protest placards and chanting peace slogans. Reporters' questions were lost in the madness of what Stephanie feared might soon turn into an ugly and dangerous mob scene. On an impulse, Stephanie threw her tape recorder in her purse and reached in her pocket for a digital camera, thinking she might have a better angle than Earl Taber.
Landis was smiling and looking down when it happened, the right arm raised, acknowledging the crowd, the other clutching a leather portfolio. Three gunshots exploded like cheap firecrackers, slamming into his body, hurling him backward. Landis' arm dropped to his side, his portfolio flew out of his hand and splashed down into a puddle. Blood spurted from his stomach and head.
Still instinctively snapping pictures, Stephanie zeroed in on Landis until Nick yanked her to the ground and her legs flipped out from underneath her. She landed painfully on her tailbone, but kept a tight grip on her camera, her fingers depressing the shutter repeatedly. A blonde woman on her left tumbled across her lap, screaming. Stephanie strained her eyes for another view of her father amid more screams and piles of shuffling, scrambling bodies, her mind numb with shock, her body paralyzed with fear.
"Over here, over here, over here!" someone yelled, sharp and staccato.
Stephanie scrabbled up on one knee, pushing the woman aside, and watched a mound of struggling police restraining someone. Nick grasped her arm again and flung her backward on top of him. However, the image of the bloodstained suit of Landis and two other crumpled figures lying around him near the street still blazed in her brain. Nausea welled up in her throat, preventing her from screaming.
She fought to stand again and managed to peer above the crowd. A distraught Secret Service man shielded the body of one of the other victims, who lay twitching beneath him, blood dribbling from his mouth. She struggled to her feet for a closer look, her stockings bloodied, wet and torn from scraping the sidewalk. A wall of bodies still blocked her path and she began shouting her father's name. A reporter was standing over Landis snapping pictures. Stephanie pocketed her camera, unwilling to capture any more of the gruesome scene. Another Secret Service agent placed a towel beneath Landis’ head, applying pressure to the gaping wound on his left temple. A dazed group of strangers circled the other victim curled at his feet.
Her father.
Next week: What is your heart's desire and a giveaway of "The Montezuma Secret"

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Baaaaaad Reviews: Teaching Perseverance

Many blogs and groups bemoan the presence of bad reviews. And they are terrible. I got a one star on Goodreads once and was devastated. However, we can learn from them (at least, some of them) and learn to rise above them. For example, one reviewer said I referred to the heroine’s pulsing Adam’s Apple, pointing out women don’t have Adam’s Apples. I checked this out. They do have Adam’s Apples, they just aren’t as prominent as men’s. And it was only mentioned twice in the whole book. But I do know not to use that comparison anymore. And I am learning to make the heroine as likeable as possible, based on what a few reviewers said, even though she may have a few flaws.
And for fun, I checked out the reviews for one of my favorite books, Nora Roberts’ “The Reef.” There were plenty of negative reviews. I thought how could there be? This book was excellent. Yet there they were. Almost thirty three, two and one star reviews—one person even called it the worst book they had ever read, another said it was disappointing and yet another said the story didn’t go anywhere! It just goes to show you everyone sees things differently, has a different opinion, just like taste buds, and there is nothing you can do about it, except move on and not let any of it get to you. And don’t take it personally, unless there are some despicable ad hominem attacks, which are uncalled for and can be removed from the review sites, upon request.
When we put a book out there, it’s in the public eye, whether we like it or not, kind of like running for office. And all of our good points and our bad are up for inspection. Most people tend to concentrate on the good things and offer constructive criticism, but some wish to only focus on the negative. They may be motivated by a variety of things. Maybe they’ve wanted to write a book and couldn’t or maybe they’ve just had a bad day. The important thing is to keep your “eyes on the prize” and don’t let anyone deter you from your goals. It’s amazing to read the biographies of famous actors who have been rejected hundreds of times but keep going or if they finally do get a part, they describe the dozens of bombs they’ve appeared on, either on stage or in the movies. The same is true of writers. Jack London collected 266 rejection slips. When HG Wells wrote “War of the Worlds,” some described it as “horrid.” The first “Chicken Soup” book was rejected 140 times until it finally found an independent publisher.
We can’t erase very bad review, no matter how much we want to. We can cry, yell, pound our fists, flail our arms, and swear like a sailor. But we should never, ever stop writing and doing what we love. If there is any valuable constructive criticism in the review, we can learn from it. I will never stop writing, no matter what. I love putting myself in the main character’s role too much. I love slugging it out with the bad guys and the good guys, putting my heroine in jungles and snake pits, and enjoy writing the sexy love scenes. So stay strong and persevere, no matter what anybody says!
What’s the worst review you’ve ever got? You don’t need to mention the book. And what is it that they hated the most? Or if that’s too painful, I understand. How about describing your reaction and what you did in response? Did you learn anything?
Next week: What is your Heart’s Desire?
Also: Book Giveaway of “The Montezuma Secret.”
Five Stars on Amazon and Goodreads