Thursday, March 29, 2012

10 Tips for Productive Writing

1.      Create goals. Decide how many pages or words you can comfortably produce in a day, then mark these potential daily totals on your calendar. Be realistic. Allow for rest days, also days when life may intervene—since it always does.

2.      Set personal deadlines. Example: You have a six-month editorial deadline, but know you will need a major read-through for author revision, plus another for polishing, in order to turn in your best work. Mark your calendar with a two-month deadline for completing the rough draft, and two months each for the author revision and polishing.

3.      Establish a daily routine. Doing the same things in the same order (shower, eat breakfast, exercise, check email, make a cup of tea or coffee) prepares your brain for work in the same way any engrained habit produces mental readiness.

4.      Make certain your writing area is comfortable. Invest in a good office chair and follow ergonomic principles. You need to be relaxed and pain free in order to concentrate.

5.     Put on music. Whether you create a playlist that reflects the theme of your story, opt for classical pieces such as Mozart that’s said to encourage concentration, or choose something that jars every brain cell in your skull, music can tune out distractions and put you in the mood to write.

6.      Read over the last 5-10 pages of work done the day before. This will allow you pick up the threads of the story and/or do minor polishing. Avoid reading back over too many pages as this can eat up working time.

7.      Brainstorm the scene coming up. Jot down four or five points that need to be made at this point in your story, and then arrange them in order of occurrence. These notes will give your brain something to work with as you face the blank computer screen.

8.      Start typing something, anything. Make a diary entry, a grocery list, a collection of things to be thankful for, or just rant about the last idiot who annoyed you. Segue into random thoughts about your characters, their motivations or upcoming actions. Something will usually appear that’s useful for the book. Delete the garbage and go.

9.      Set a cheap, portable kitchen timer. Challenge yourself to do your personal best number of words or pages in an hour. The time ticking away acts as a goad, and speed writing permits you to by-pass your internal editor for better creative flow.

10.      Reward yourself for goals met and/or work completed. The prize can be as minor as a piece of chocolate when you make your daily page total, or as major as a trip to Europe when you finish a multi-book contract. Any incentive for your muse will encourage her to show up and lean over your shoulder, whispering, “You can do this. Yes, you can.”


Since publishing her first book at age 27, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Jennifer Blake has gone on to write over 65 historical and contemporary novels in multiple genres. She brings the story-telling power and seductive passion of the South to her stories, reflecting her 8th-generation Louisiana heritage. Jennifer lives with her husband in northern Louisiana.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Heroes for Inspiration

If I told you I write while surrounded by more than 65 handsome and heroic men, would you think I was exaggerating? Maybe not, if you’re also a writer! The truth is that the heroes—and the heroines—we create are never far away. It’s almost as if they live on some alternate plane that we reach through intense concentration, as though we are privileged to tell their stories instead of making them up.

This was first brought home to me on receiving the advance copies of TRIUMPH IN ARMS in 2009, and realizing they signaled the end of my MaĆ®tre d’armes stories. These gallant swordsmen had been with me so long, after all; though the first book in their series, CHALLENGE TO HONOR, was published in 2005, the idea of writing about the fencing masters of Old New Orleans first occurred to me in 1998. I’d come across these men in Herbert Asbury’s THE FRENCH QUARTER, where they were described as the epitome of strength, daring and danger in aristocratic French Creole New Orleans during the final years of dueling. Men who were excluded from polite society, never introduced to gently-bred young ladies, yet so deadly with a sword that they could claim anything they wanted? What stories there must have been about them. What stories I could invent!

In the way things happen, however, I’d just signed a contract for a contemporary series. This historical idea had to go on a back burner. It never stopped simmering, however, and I stirred it with research trips to New Orleans. Photocopying endless pages of microfilmed newspapers from the 1840s at the Williams Research Center took me so deep into the time period that I longed to live there. Walking along what was left of that famous street of fencing masters, the old Passage de la Bourse, now Exchange Alley, gave me a frame for them. Staring up at the houses remaining from the period made images shift through my mind like seeing ghosts. Then there was taking photos—which included a man on a balcony reading his Sunday paper who didn’t much appreciate being recorded for research!

At last the time came to start writing. The first sword master book was done at my leisure, and then readied for submission with short proposals for two more in the same setting. At the last minute, I added single-paragraph descriptions for an additional three books that were ticking my brain. To my surprise and gratitude, my editor immediately contracted for the entire six-book series. Then my German publisher did the same after no more than hearing the project described over dinner. Amazing.

Now Christien Lenoir, my last swordsman, was making his bow. I saw him in my mind’s eye in one particular scene by candlelight. His dark hair is tousled from sleep, he’s shirtless so his hard torso gleams, and in his fist is his sword as he makes a vow that will bind him forever to a woman and child. I smile when I think of it. And though I’ve moved on, have already written other books set in 15th century England, Christien will ever be with me.

It’s only natural, after all.  If our characters are not alive for us, how can we, as writers, expect them to live in the minds of readers?


Since publishing her first book at age 27, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Jennifer Blake has gone on to write over 65 historical and contemporary novels in multiple genres. She brings the story-telling power and seductive passion of the South to her stories, reflecting her 8th-generation Louisiana heritage. Jennifer lives with her husband in northern Louisiana.

Friday, March 16, 2012

St. Patrick's Day 99c Sale

Steel Magnolia Press has teamed with some of our favorite Kindle authors in a St. Patrick's Day Blowout! Where else will you find 30 books by 26 authors reduced from $1.99-$4.95 to just 99 cents each?

And not just romance either! Mystery, thrillers, fantasy, YA, non-fiction - this sale runs the gamut. Click on over to David's site where the sale is being hosted to discover your next new read. You'll purchase your 99c books direct from Amazon, so no need to worry about how you'll get them onto your Kindle.

St. Patrick's Day Blowout! 30 Great Books by 26 Authors, Reduced to 99c

We hope you'll see what else is on offer there, but if you'd rather just check out the Steel Magnolia Press titles on sale, here they are. Click on the book covers to go directly to their page on Amazon.

Note that the sale ends Sunday, March 18. Monday, all books will be back to their regular price.


The Rent-A-Groom by Jennifer Blake
(Novella, Reg. $2.99)

Even though Gina cancels her wedding mere days before the ceremony, she’s determined to keep her reservation for a famous honeymoon suite in Dallas.

Enter Race, a Texas cowboy who cleans up rather well, and who declares himself her substitute groom for the week.

Thinking her best friend hired Race, Gina goes along with the fun – at first. But is Race really who he seems? Why is Gina’s ex-fiance staying at the same hotel? And just how far is Gina prepared to go with Race and that model-worthy face of his on their "honeymoon"?

Catering to the Italian Playboy by Tamelia Tumlin
(Category Length, Reg. $1.99)

It was humiliating! How could caterer Sophie Westbrook ever face the sexy Italian hotel tycoon again after the way she’d practically thrown herself at him six years earlier…and ended up in his bed? Yet here she was back in his hotel wearing only a G-string and a smile.

Maximus Rinaldi is not pleased to find a half-naked exotic dancer in the middle of his business meeting…until he discovers she’s the mystery woman he shared one unbelievable night with years ago. Max is determined to win her back into his bed, but Sophie has a secret that might just turn the sexy Italian playboy’s life upside down!

Spoil of War by Phoenix Sullivan
(Novel, Reg. $1.99)

Elsbeth of Olmsbury desires nothing beyond helping her father run his dukedom -- until his forces are overwhelmed, his castle torched and Elsbeth seized for the invading king’s personal spoil.

Leodegrance desires only to make Elsbeth his consort in Cameliard even as he marches to unite the wild isle of Britain under Roman rule.

Together, they are destined to create history.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Rhythm Method Writing

We are told by those who should know that people work better during certain stages of their circadian rhythm, normally when they reach their greatest core body temperature and corresponding optimum level of brain wave activity.  For writers, this equates to clearer thinking and greater creativity during these peak times.

When this period occurs is dependent on the sleep-wake cycle for each person, something that’s controlled by exposure to both natural and artificial light.  The lowest level of body temperature and brain wave activity occurs, on average, two hours before a person wakes.  The highest level, then, is approximately twelve hours later.  For instance, if you wake naturally at 6 a.m., then 4 a.m. should be your low period and 4 p.m. your high.  Writing from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m. would then take you through your optimum work period.  In any case, writing while your core temperature is rising is preferable to writing when it is falling.  It’s not practical to write only at the top of your productive cycle, of course, but the concept is something to keep in mind for when you run into difficulty with a story.

Added to this theory is another which says periods of greater creativity can also be associated with the light-dark cycles of the calendar year.  After years of watching my output level, I’ve noticed that writing is easier after the winter solstice, as daylight hours slowly increase, and most difficult in the late fall as darkness arrives earlier.  Or maybe it’s just that not much is happening during January and February, so it’s easier to concentrate then!

What do you think?  Have you noticed any effect on your writing caused by the time of day or the seasons?

Since publishing her first book at age 27, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Jennifer Blake has gone on to write over 65 historical and contemporary novels in multiple genres. She brings the story-telling power and seductive passion of the South to her stories, reflecting her 8th-generation Louisiana heritage. Jennifer lives with her husband in northern Louisiana.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Heroes: The Heart of Romance Novels

Romance novels can vary from story to story and from genre to genre, but there are three things every romance MUST have:

1) A strong heroine
2) A sexy but redeemable hero
3) A happily ever after.

Although as a reader we live vicariously through our heroine, the hero is the one who holds our attention and our heart. So that means he must be gorgeous, rich and absolutely perfect, right? Not at all. Heroes come from all walks of life, various economic backgrounds and should be flawed enough to seem real (to the the reader that is).

So what traits should a romantic hero possess? 

Honor. The hero in a romance novel should be honorable and trustworthy (after all he's going to win the heroine's heart, so he must be worthy of such a treasure). Some of his actions in the story may be questionable, but he should a very good reason for them.

Exciting. You want the hero to stand out from the crowd. His very essence must be something the heroine can't live without.

Redeemable. Even though at first he may seem a bit rough around the edges and he may have several flaws, he must be redeemable. He should also have an Achilles heel that only the heroine can save him from.

Only has eyes for the heroine. Though he may fight the attraction thoughout the novel, his only romantic interest must be the heroine. No other woman will do. She is his soulmate and no matter how much he tries to resist, in the end the heroine is the only woman who can make him complete. Even if it takes him a while to realize it.

So what does this honorable, exciting, redeemable hero look like?

Romance novels have lovely cover art portraying the characters, but as an author we draw inspiration from several images we deem "hero material" to help us create the perfect hero for our story. However, in the end it's the reader's imagination that actually creates the hero. Each of us has our own version of the hero firmly planted in our imagination. That is what makes every story so exciting!

So who is your "hero material"?

Ah ... (swoon) ... I can think of a few. George Clooney, Anotonio Banderos, Pierce Brosnan, and an oldie but goodie ... Clark Gable.

Tamelia Tumlin has worked with several online publishers, but is now writing exclusively for Steel Magnolia Press. Juggling motherhood, teaching and writing is a challenge, but one she welcomes to pursue her passion. Her romance novels range from sweet and sassy to dark and dangerous.