Mother of Teens: How To Write With Little Kids At Home

On one of the writing forums I belong to someone asked how anyone could possibly write with little kids around. What they really wanted to know was: CAN YOU WRITE WITHOUT PUTTING YOUR KIDS IN DAYCARE? Not everyone has a partner, nearby family, or the money needed to create a kid-free environment when they want to write.

There is a myth that you can’t write while you have little kids around. Or that you need to have a partner who will take care of the entire household while you sequester yourself with your muse to commune with pen and page.

And, like all other myths, it’s a big, fat lie told by some author desperate to get out of watching Frozen for the fifteen-millionth time.

You can write with kids at home. You can write with kids in the room. You can write with kids on your lap.

My first story (Even Villains Fall In Love) came out the same year my son was born. That means my two youngest kids have never known a time when Mommy wasn’t a published author. I wrote a trilogy between the time my daughter was born and the year she turned four. Four kids, three cross-country moves, and three books. If I can pull that off, so can you.

1 – Set reasonable goals and set acceptable reasons to miss writing. If you stress out because of impossible goals, or because you’re trying to write with a newborn, you’ll make yourself miserable. Don’t.

2 – Steal what time you can. When the baby naps, while CARS is playing for the 3rd time today… I’ve finished novels with babies nursing or a toddler on my lap. Use a boppy pillow and run spellcheck.

3 – As kids hit the Needy Years (3-5) where they nap less and need attention, make a writing space for them. My 5yo isn’t in school yet, but she’ll give me a quiet 30 minutes if I give her a dry erase board, markers, paper, and a place to sit near my desk. Thirty minutes usually means 500-1000 words. Thirty minutes daily means a novel is finished in 3 months.

4 – Prep to write so that when you sit down to type that is all you need to do. Outline, use note cards, use sticky notes, whatever… just make sure that computer time is spent writing, not trying to think. Check out the plotting session I did to get you started. 

5 – Give yourself 30 minutes a day. You might get 300 words, you might get 1000, but with 30 minutes a day (weekends off) you can write a novel in 6 months.

Twitter Pitch Etiquette #SonOfAPitch

March 6th there will be a #SonOfAPitch Twitter Pitch Party! What is a Twitter Pitch Party? How do you pitch? Why do you pitch? Here’s the quick and dirty details for all the Twitter Pitch debutantes out there!

What is it? A Twitter Pitch Party is an online event organized by writers, editors, and agents around a date and hashtag. During the event authors post a pitch (or logline) for their book with the appropriate hashtag. If an agent or editor likes the pitch, they’ll let the author know. The author will then send in a query along with requested pages. These queries will get top priority from agents and editors.

How do you pitch? It’s as simple as putting your pitch on twitter with the right hashtag! Going to be away from the keyboard all day? Use Tweetdeck to schedule tweets!

Why do you pitch? Did I mention that editors and agents give pitching authors priority when reading queries? It’s nice to get feedback fast. Over 60% of my full manuscript requests came from pitch parties. Even though I wound up with an agent I found through a traditional query process, the feedback from other agents helped me refine my early query.

Do’s and Don’ts:
Do use the hashtag.
Do be polite to other authors and anyone on the hashtag (but feel free to report spam).
Do keep a positive attitude.
Don’t spam the hashtag. As a general rule, tweet once every two to three hours (4 total tweets for the event).
Don’t tweet more than one book.
Don’t tag agents with your pitch.
Don’t pitch on twitter unless you are participating in an event.

Etiquette for authors on Twitter:
There’s a lot that can be said here, but let’s keep it simple: your twitter feed is part of your brand. Everyone – from potential agents to potential readers – will see your feed. So put your best foot forward. Make sure that someone reading your feed finds the same tone there that they will in your books. You want to keep a nice balance of book-related tweets (NASA tweets for the SF crowd, Teen Vogue tweets for the YA crowd, archaeology or Victoria tweets if you write historical fiction, ect), personal-tweets (pets… people love pets), and promotion (actual ads for your book should take up less than 10% of your feed).

Even before you publish, you want to make your Twitter feed (or whatever social media feed you use as your Home Base) a place that reflects you, your style, and welcomes new readers to stop by and say hi.

What you do put on Twitter: a real avatar (no eggs!), a good bio, a link to your website/author page, retweets of things that interest you, conversations with other authors, pictures of pets, pictures of your bookcase, pictures you, information about cool stuff in your hometown (I’ll be tweeting about the Iditarod this week), information about the research you’re doing for a new book, #WIPfire with a sentence from your latest story, fun stories about two people sharing a found wine bottle on the sub ride home.

What you don’t put on Twitter are things like: your address, your phone number, nude pics, complaints about how slow an agency is responding to your query, rants about how you could do so much better in self-publishing while querying, brag posts about how you’ve never read a genre but are totally going to rewrite it because you are a genius, or hate-filled screes against anyone (with exceptions for football season and March Madness… sports rants can be forgiven).

What if an agent or editor starts chatting with me on Twitter? Be friendly and keep talking. I’ve met some fabulous people who offered me stellar advice for free just because we happened to be Twitter-friends. Done right, social media can be an amazing networking tool, especially for people who live in remote locations (like me!), are anxious in crowds, can’t get to cons, or otherwise wouldn’t be rubbing elbows with people in the publishing industry on a regular basis.

Got questions? Hit the comment box and let me know what you’re worried about.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out the How-To Write A Pitch workshop, and post yours for feedback.


Writing Realistic Romantic Relationships

There are a couple of hard and fast rules for writing romance genre that you need to keep in mind if you want to write category Romance.

  • Anything market as Romance must have a Happily Ever After/Happy For Now ending. Anything less than that, and you will eaten alive by romance readers.
  • Unless you are using the Fated Mate trope you need to build a realistic relationship.

Realistic relationships are built on a couple of things: shared interests, trust, reliability, loyalty, compatibility, physical interest, chemistry, and enhancement (in which being together makes each person stronger).

Shared Interest: What do we have in common?
Trust: Do I trust you with my secrets, my life, and my body?
Reliability: If I trust you, will you be there when I need you?
Loyalty: If we run into trouble, will you side with me or them?
Compatibility: Are we on the same page, working towards the same goals, and do we have the same values?
Physical Interest: Do we find each other attractive?
Chemistry: Are we happy together? 
Enhancement: Do we make each other better people when we are together?

A lot of authors try to get by with physical interest (He’s so sexy I can’t keep my hands off him!) and it tends to fall flat. One, “I can’t stop myself!” is a self-control issue and, two, no one wants to finish a book and think to themself, “They’re not going to survive the first flu together let alone stay married happily ever after.”

Shared interests get a couple to pay attention to each other. Trust, loyalty, and reliability develop with friendship.

Compatibility covers religion, ideologies, future goals, ect… you need these to make a couple look like they’ll work out.

Physical interest and chemistry change a platonic bond into a romantic one.

Enhancement is what sells the romance. It’s the idea that being in this relationship makes everyone involved better & happier. If you want to write an abusive relationship, enhancement is the thing that’s missing. The characters may trust each other and be attracted, but they are worse being in the relationship than they would be alone.


The trope you’re writing determines how these stages develop…

In Enemies-To-Lovers the characters start with chemistry or physical interest, then common ground, and trust is last.

In Friend-to-Lovers you start with common interests and trust, and then wind up at physical attraction.

In Fake Engagement you start with Shared Interest, move to Reliability and Loyalty, Trust, then Physical Interest, Chemistry, and Enhancement.

And so on…

Stages of Love: Lost and Rough-Hewn Spears
Stages of Love: Attraction and Rejection
Stages of Love: Commitment and Happily Ever After
Writing Realistic Relationships (the basics)




Stages of Love: Commitment and Happily Ever After


Welcome to the beautiful, danger fraught world of Commitment.

The Basics
Commitment is a place few authors dare to tread. Committed couples? Where’s the romance in that? (Confession: I totally think you can write a great romance with married characters and this is why EVEN VILLAINS FALL IN LOVE exists.)

Traditionally life after the wedding is summed up in one of two ways: They Lived Happily Ever After -or- The End.

One sounds like life was all roses and wedding cakes for eternity, and the other sounds just a little like I Married An Axe Murderer. Neither of those are very promising for story writing. Luckily, science hasn’t been as cynical of the committed life as fiction writers. I would go so far as to suggest that happy married life is one of those well kept secrets that only the locals know about.

So why aren’t happy faces making the headlines? First, good news doesn’t sell, second, Commitment is a very difficult stage to explain. There are so many variables that people can (and have) devote a lifetime to explaining why some couples stay together, and others fall apart.


The Science Behind Commitment

The euphoria of early Lust is gone. The feel-good rush of oxytocin from phenomenal sex wears off. Here is another victim of Cupid’s arrow, in love. And now the fore brain steps in, crushing the screaming hind brain with the sharp stiletto heel and makes a choice.

Do I love this person?

“I cannot fix on the hour, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”
– Mr. Darcy answering when he fell in love

Like so many, Darcy confused love with Lust. He was well in Lust with Elizabeth Bennett within moments of meeting her. The true love came later when he acknowledged that there was more than a physical desire. The moment of acknowledgment, when you make a conscious decision to be in love, is when the Commitment phase starts.

This can overlap the other stages. Scientific evidence suggests that love isn’t even a matter of sequential stages, but a cycle [reference].

We are familiar with the daily light cycle: sunrise, sunset, darkness, sunrise again.

Think of love in the same way: initial Lust and desire, Attraction and fulfillment of Lust, conscious decision to protect the object of Lust that becomes a self-less design in the form of Commitment, True Love incites feelings of Lust.

The Variables
If you really want to drive a scientist crazy start an experiment with too many variables (things that could vary). For instance, ask them to find out what makes a person age 30 fall in love. The age and gender can be controlled. You might be able to narrow down the data but asking only women of a certain nationality, religion, or region, but after that? Variables! How were they raised? What books do they read? What food do they eat? It all plays a part.

For the sake of my sanity we are narrowing a very broad and complex topic down to the easy to identify variables :


– Personal Prejudice: Freud has a field day with this and while he isn’t used by psychologists today, he didn’t have a point: your brain is hardwired to notice certain things. The fore brain (stilettos and STANDARDS) makes a concious decision about who you will date. This involves looking more than jaw lines and rippling pectorals and moves into the area of noticing social cues, indicators of wealth, past relationships, and expectations of what you want.

No matter how well suited an individual is from an evolutionary stand point your personal prejudices will get in the way. Did you get burned by someone named Chris in high school? The chances of you falling in love with another Chris are low. Did you adore your parents? You’ll probably marry someone like them. Are you looking to move up socially? The chances of you falling in love with someone from a lower social strata are limited.

– Sphere of Influence: Some people divide this into Peer Group and Family, but I don’t. By age 25 most people have either moved past their nuclear family or have become friends with them. If you are writing YA or historical fiction you can use the Peer Group vs Family influence as conflict, but for our purposes here they are the same.

The Sphere of Influence is what people you care about will say about the relationship. The classic example is Romeo and Juliet. They were falling in love, definitely in Lust, but the disapproving family killed their chances of Commitment and brought about a tragic end.

A more modern example might be a college student posting a picture of someone they met on FaceBook and asking all their friends if they should go for it.

How much the Sphere of Influence affects a relationship depends on how much each individual involved relies on other people’s opinions to make choices and establish their sense of self-worth. The weaker an individual’s sense of self is, the more they rely on the judgments of the Sphere of Influence.

– Social Conjecture: This aspect of expectations has the least influence on whether or not a couple form a Commitment. This is what you think other people you don’t know think you should do. If you think society is pushing you to have a career before marriage but none of your friends actually say so, the idea falls here. You think society wants you to work more than marry, but there is no proof or weight to the idea.

This can also include taboos or laws that prevent a relationship from developing.

– Physical: Repeat after me: I cannot love someone I have not met.

I know this breaks the hearts of all the Fangrrlz out there, but Justin Bieber does not love you. No. He doesn’t. You may lust after him, and Edward Cullen, and Harry Potter but it doesn’t change a thing. If the person doesn’t know you exist, they can’t love you.

You can’t love someone who doesn’t know you. You can Lust after them all you like, but it isn’t love.

Please note: Physical ability to fall in love does not mean physical proximity. Many happy couples maintain faithful, long-distance relationships. For all those long-distance relationships to work there has to be a moment where you meet physically, catch the persons scent, and let the hind brain do its job of assessing genetic compatibility.

– Emotional: I think the biggest symbol of this is the wedding ring. In Western society the wedding band is a clear indicator that the person with the ring is Off Limits. Body language and behavior will also signal whether a person is willing to engage in a relationship of some kind.

Emotional indicators are often confusing, and this is great source of conflict for a writer. It is a great source of doubt and confusion for anyone dating.

A person can Lust after anyone they want, but there needs to be a positive emotional response from the Lustee if the relationship is going to have a happy ending. Even in asexual or aromantin individuals there is some level of emotion, it may not lead to a sexual relationship, but sex isn’t required for romantic relationships of any kind.

– Reciprocation: You cannot love someone who doesn’t know you exist, and you can’t establish a Committed relationship of the romantic kind with someone who doesn’t reciprocate. When someone says, “I’m so in love! Why won’t he notice me?” the answer is, “You are in Lust. That’s the norepinephrine talking. Get a life.”

The chemicals from the first stage of Lust make you obsess over someone. The cuddly feel-good chemicals of Attraction come when the person begins to pay attention. The Commitment stage of love is a mutual choice. Unless they make the same choice as you, it isn’t Love, it’s infatuation.

If you are writing a romance of any kind please print that sentence out and tape it above your monitor. One sided affection is creepy-stalker-love. Not romantic!

Spiritual Persuasion
Most researchers would put religion under Sphere of Influence, and yet again I disagree. Spiritual or religious belief is a amalgamation of personal prejudice, sphere of influence, and social conjecture and I think it needs it’s own space.

What religion does that social mores don’t is offer a long-term consequence to your actions. It’s more than getting snubbed at dinner parties because you married the wrong person, it’s the personal belief that your choices in love will have eternal/immortal consequences. And then it adds another layer of social expectation on top of that.

Picture this scene some 3000 odd years ago:

Boy: Father, I’m in love!

Dad: Great, what’s his name son?

Boy: I fell in love with a woman, Father.

Dad: What? NOOO!!! What in the name of Zeus do you think you’re doing? This is a conservative Hellenistic household and I won’t have you shaming the family name by bringing your liberal Jewish smut in here!

Boy: But, Father! I love her!

Dad: Oh, no you don’t! You can’t love a woman! They’re barely smarter than cattle! Now, put on your toga like a good boy and we’ll go to church.You’ll go to the orgy and you’ll like it!

Despite the hind brain kicking you and insisting that two of one gender to not evolutionary sense make, society has often pushed away from evolutionary tendencies to secure homosexual, incestuous, or caste -based relationships as the norm.

Society is very fond of forcing the naturally slutty human being into monogamous, or infertile, relationships. And religion with the threat of eternal damnation and/or the end of the world for not marrying your sibling is often the mechanism of enforcement.

What makes these spiritual beliefs different from Sphere of Influence is that the beliefs learned in childhood are so firmly ingrained in the Personal Prejudice that a person may not even look outside the walls of their spiritual belief when considering love or a long-term relationship. It becomes a block to ideal evolution on multiple levels.

Procreating with a sibling is a Bad Idea (looking at you House Lannister), but other things (only marrying in a tribe, race, religion, or caste) can be equally limiting the dispersal of genes. And nobody but a geneticist will care about this in real time, which makes this a fun fact to remember when writing societies that tightly control the movement of genetic material.

Last Thoughts
Romantic love and sex are always consensual. Everyone involved should be happy and enthusiastically willing. There are many opinions on what is right or wrong, or what makes the ideal relationship/couple/parenting group, but that is always a personal choice. Don’t judge someone else’s happiness. If it’s working for them, and it’s a consensual relationship between adults, you smile and let live.

There is too much hate in the world, and if you take on the mantle and title of Romance Author than your job is to bring a little more happiness and love to the world. So make sure it’s an inclusive happiness.


Stages of Love: Lost and Rough-Hewn Spears
Stages of Love: Attraction and Rejection
Stages of Love: Commitment and Happily Ever After
Writing Realistic Relationships (the basics)



Stages of Love – Attraction

Yesterday we talked about the science behind Lust. The mad, crazy, passionate time when you are truly obsessed with another sentient being, or at least obsessed with getting in their pants and scoring a DNA exchange.

After a short period of time the original chemical lust wears off. Reality sets in and you start to really see the person. Yes, the genetics and pheromones might be enough for the hind brain (the crazy bit with the spear – remember?), but the fore brain has STANDARDS.

The Basics
Actually, a lot of attachment has to do with the hind brain screaming, “Ahh! There’s a parasite in my uterus somebody find me ice cream!!!”

While the hind brain stuffs ice cream in it’s mouth to drown the obscenities the logic centers perk up and go: Hot tamale! I ain’t raising this kiddo alone!

The brain works overtime, hustling the chemicals to produce permanent bonds that will make sure someone else is around to change the baby’s diaper at 3am. The conscious mind may tell you that you are madly in love, that this is fate, you are truly soulmates… and that’s sweet. Really, I’ve been with my husband over a decade and I applaud you (or your character) for thinking that.

It’s a lie, but it’s such a pretty lie.

The Science Behind Attachment
Let’s go back to one of the examples we addressed yesterday. Pride and Prejudice: The Worst Proposal Ever!

What do we see here?

Mr. Darcy is running on mad Lust at this point.

The first time I heard this part of P&P (I listened to the audio before reading) I nearly died laughing. By the standards of the time Darcy was acting on what he understood to be love. But the attachment portion of the relationship wasn’t there. Yes, Lizzy Bennett was a wonderful choice from a genetic stand point, the chances of her being in-bred with the same line as Darcy’s in-breeding was fairly low, but from the view of science this was a no-go.


Obviously because the Dracy’s weren’t in the habit of doping their guests drinks with Oxytocin at dinner, and Darcy had overlooked the key ingredient of staring into Lizzy’s eyes for prolonged periods of time [reference].

Lust is all about sex, all those hormones, the testosterone in the saliva, the dopamine pinging the brain’s reward center are all aimed at getting naked as fast as possible. Norepinephrine, the chemical responsible for obsessive focus in the early stage of Lust is the bridge between the wild monkey sex and the point where you start picking out baby names [reference].

Expiration Date: Four Years
The second stage of love, Attachment, is dictated by two primary hormones.

Oxytocin – is responsible for you wanting to cuddle, and is usually released during sex. The hind brain (Mr. Rough-Hewn Spear) wants sex for sex’s sake. It feels good! It spreads the genes around! Yay! Oxytocin is the rest of the brain’s sneaky way of making you stay with someone long enough to raise the kids.

Interestingly enough, oxytocin is also released just after birth and when a woman nurses. In the laboratory scientists have messed with block oxytocin (thus making a rat reject it’s young) and doping subjects with oxytocin (making a rat fawn over other young) [reference]. I’m waiting for the perfume industry to come out with a perfume that has oxytocin in it. Just think of the results!

Vasopressin – which controls your kidneys as well as your fidelity index. Low levels of vasopressin are associated with infidelity in mammals. Scientists are still working on the why behind this.

All of this feel-good chemical love does not add up to a wonderful marriage, Happily Ever After, or anything else a writer can put to work. This explains why you want to cuddle, and why relationships cool down after a certain period of time. Evolution set the child raising alarm clock for four years, at that point, the hormones wear off and other things kick in [reference].

Yesterday I eviscerated Scarlet (and the GI Joe script writers) for her portrayal of smart girls. Everyone falls in love. This is a normal biological function the same as breathing. Short of a malfunction in the hormone producing centers of your body this is not something you can control.

I love the paranormal books that try.

Pheromones are one of those tidbits of science that have become almost cliche. I groan when I see an ill-advised author whip out pheremones as a reason why the characters can’t keep their hands off each other. Yes, the smell works. But you can’t build Happily Ever After out of smells and Lust.

The oxytocin and vasopressin in the Attachment phase are what glue Lust to Love.

Poor Mr. Darcy needed Elizabeth’s brain to flood with a healthy dose of oxytocin before she would think of saying yes. Yes, they had a physical attraction, Lust was working fine. Yes, all the factors for an ideal Commitment (Stage 3 Love) were there in the forms of wealth and approving families (at least on her end). What Darcy and Elizabeth lacked here was the Attachment in the middle.

Remember how I said the fore brain has STANDARDS? Eventually those prejudices and conscious desires kick in and you realize the person you’re raising the kids with isn’t what you wanted in life. Evolution doesn’t care about a persons socio-economic status, religious views, or sexual orientation. All evolution and the hind brain care about is making more Homo sapiens sapiens.

The oxytocin makes you cuddle, the vasopressin makes you hang around, but what keeps the relationship going is a new a stage of love altogether.

Stages of Love: Lost and Rough-Hewn Spears
Stages of Love: Attraction and Rejection
Stages of Love: Commitment and Happily Ever After
Writing Realistic Relationships (the basics)


Stages of Love – Lust and Rough-Hewn Spears

Love is a many-facted thing. We pine for it. We write about it. We dream of it. We mourn the loss and yet somehow always seem to wind up with our hearts broken again… Love is rough.

And as much as people claim to know about love we often forget that it’s actually complex, chemical multi-step process. Between Lust and Love there are a lot of steps, and a lot of little glands producing chemicals that make you go DERP! This is a break down for writers who want to know the building blocks of falling in love so they can play with it, tweak it, and use it to their own fictional ends.

The Basics
There is more to life than love or hate. Love comes in many stages, as few as three, and as many as eighteen (if my research is correct). Between those stages are a whole host of variables, outside influences, inner doubts, but the basics of love come down to some pretty simple things. And, really, it’s all chemically induced.

The Science of Lust
The first stage of any relationship is categorized as lust. As writers, this is where you usually start. There are entire genres devoted to the Lust stage of a relationship.

I’d like to say here that the whole, “…eyes meeting across a crowded room and she knew that he was the perfect man…” is a lie, but it isn’t. You won’t get real love from a smoldering gaze, but you can do the basic check for Lust in under 30 seconds.

What happens in the lust stage is that you are identifying the physical markers for an ideal mate. This has nothing to do with sonnets and everything to do with wild monkey sex. In the first thirty seconds your hind brain (the little uncivilized part that wants to throw rough-hewn spears at the cars on the freeway) sums up every new acquaintance as: potential mate, help, rival, useless.

The hind brain is seeking phenotypes (physical markers) that signal a healthy genetic compliment. Both genders look for a balanced and symmetrical face (unbalanced faces are associated with genetic defects).

Popular opinions that say men are only interested in butts and boobs has a grounding in science. Men are hard-wired to look for mates with good childbearing hips and adequate curves on top, a sign that the female in question is physically developed enough to carry a child. Western men also prefer smaller jaws and noses, and larger eyes [reference].

Women are a little trickier. A woman who is ovulating, that is to say a woman who is in prime baby-making condition, will look for a man who is overtly masculine: strong jaw, large muscles, someone that reeks of testosterone. When a woman isn’t ovulating she is more likely to prefer a more feminine man, because the softer individual is regarded to be a better long-term care-giver. Men with more testosterone are considered to be flight risks. [reference].

There’s also pheromones at work here. The smell a person gives off will tell other people two things 1) if they are at a reproductive peak and 2) if the person has a complimentary immune system [reference]. Not an identical set, your siblings should never smell attractive because their immune system is too similar to yours. What your hind brain is searching for is an immune system that is radically different, thus allowing your subsequent child to have a better chance at life.

And that’s in the first thirty seconds!

Remember, this isn’t about love or logic, it’s about getting your gametes into the next generation with the best chance of survival. Your hind brain is all about world domination through gene sharing.

Within the next minute the rest of the brain will kick in and start looking for the social markers we are trained from birth to recognize as being ideal in a mate. Much of what you look for will depend on how your parents raised you. If your father was a loving Daddy who spoiled you rotten the chances are good you’ll find men with similar features very attractive. If Daddy was a drunk cuss who ran out on you, men that remind you of Daddy will get an instant black mark on their record.

Even if they aren’t actively looking for a mate the average person will make a mental note of perceived social status, wealth, and ability to provide within the first few minutes of meeting a new person. While you may never do anything with this information, and despite the fact that your logical mind will probably over-rule much of what you initially think, your first impressions about a person are going to have ties to the evolutionary need to survive and procreate.

Now we’re in Lust Part II. This is where your brain settles after the intial introduction has taken place but before any real emotional bonds have formed.

Limerence – a term coined by Dorthy Tennov in 1977 – is defined as:

“‘an involuntary state of mind which seems to result from a romantic attraction for another person combined with an overwhelming, obsessive need to have one’s feelings reciprocated”

I.E. Madly in Love

This is the stage so many writers ground their plots in. This is the stuff of conflict and romance and desire and passion. This is what drove Romeo and Juliet. This is what makes Pride and Prejudice so funny!

If Mr. Darcy had never entered the dangerous waters of limerence poor Elizabeth Bennett and her sisters would have faded into obscurity. Lydia never would have been rescued. Charles Bingley never would have returned to propose to Jane.

And like all good things that are too good too last limerence has an expiration date. Three months.

On average mad lust will get you through three months of heady love [reference]. Then the feelings fade.

What’s going on in the background is pure chemistry (cue Marlon Brando on the set of Guys and Dolls)…

The poor misguided Scarlett in our video clip was quite wrong about proving love. We can. If you really want to find out if someone is in Lust you just need to check for four little chemicals: adrenaline, norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin [reference].

Adrenaline is what makes your heart race.

Norepinephrine is similar to adrenaline and gives you an energy boost while improving your focus. This chemical is also responsible for prompting goal-oriented behavior and obsession.

Dopamine lights up the pleasure and reward center of the brain. This chemical is associated with cravings and addictions. That doesn’t even sound like a good thing, but it’s all part of falling in love.

Serotonin that gives you a happy feeling.

Your body actually rewards you for seeing this person that the hind brain as picked out as an ideal genetic candidate for its plans for world domination. Sneaky brain!

When you see the object of your chemically-driven obsession your pupils widen, making everything look brighter and better. Regular dopamine dumps combined with physical or emotional rewards from the relationship will determine what happens after the first three months.

In most cases the relationship falls apart at three months. As the body becomes accustomed to the chemical dump the rose-tinted glasses fall away and you start to see the flaws. The original spark from the dopamine fades and unless you move to the next stage (attraction) the relationship fails [reference].

But not always. An estimated ten percent of married or committed couples are still in the limerence stage [reference]. Even after decades of monogamous relationship.

Couples that stay in the first stages of love and lust are deeply committed, intense, sexually active (This is not permission to go have sex! Think before you strip!), and involved with each others lives.

Researchers have already proven what all good authors know: Couples that work together fall in love and stay in love [reference].

Stages of Love: Lost and Rough-Hewn Spears
Stages of Love: Attraction and Rejection
Stages of Love: Commitment and Happily Ever After
Writing Realistic Relationships (the basics)

The Ultimate NaNo Prep Post (good for the rest of the year too)


This is the master post for everything I recommend to get you prepped for NaNoWriMo or a Fast Draft.

Remember, each author is unique and so is each book, so be sure to play with this and make it work for you. The way I think and the steps I follow might work for you, but it’s okay if they don’t.

How to Write 10k A Day by Rachel Bach
Magical Cookies Scenes by Susan Dennard
25 Ways To **** With Your Characters by Chuck Wendig (language is PG-13)
25 Ways To Write A Real Page Turner by Chuck Wendig
How To Write a Book In Three Days by Michael Morecock (a short book but still…)
The Master Fiction Plot by Lester Dent
5 Things Your Book Needs by Joss Whedon
A Deep POV by Wendy Sparrow
Can We Be Honest (Why do a fast draft at all?) by Liana Brooks

Plotting Beat Sheet (get your villains and twists first!)
Finding A Blockbuster Plot by Graeme Shimmin

Day 1: Establish a Baseline
Day 2: Finding a Plot
3: The Antagonist
Day 4: The Protagonist
Day 5: Motivation and Inspiration
Day 6: Set The Stage

THE EPIC PLOTTING SESSIONS (for fixing lost or broken plots and not letting them break in the first place)
Plotting Session 1: Structure
Plotting Session 2: Beat Sheets
Plotting Session 3: The Epic Plotting Video

Write a First Chapter That Gets Read
Subplots And How To Write Them
How To Write Endings by C.S. Lakin

Stages of Love: Lost and Rough-Hewn Spears
Stages of Love: Attraction and Rejection
Stages of Love: Commitment and Happily Ever After
Writing Realistic Relationships (the basics)

Grande Finales by C.S. Lakin
Writing a Killer Logline by Graeme Shimmin
Query Examples
What To Do Before You Hire An Editor Or Write A Query

*I will add to the list as time goes by because just looking at this I can see what’s missing: world building, high concept pitches, queries… this barely scratches the surface! But it’s enough to get you started!

Plotting Beat Sheet

Plotting Session 1: Structure
Plotting Session 2: Beat Sheets
Plotting Session 3: The Epic Plotting Video

During the epic plotting video where Amy Laurens and I fixed her Very Broken Novel™ I showed you the beat sheet I made Amy fill out before we replotted her book. This isn’t a full outline, but it’s what I consider the basics you need to know before writing a book (or editing it if you forgot this step in the beginning). Even if you’re pantsing a novel, you need to have some idea of what you want the final form of the book to look like.

And then, after the video was posted, I realized it would be super helpful if you had the beat sheet available so you could copy/paste to your computer and use it for yourself. So, here’s my plotting and editing beat sheet just in time for NaNoWriMo.

Protagonist: This is your main character and the person whose choices influence the book the most.
Goal 1: Want does the character want in the opening sentence?

Antagonist 1: The Page 1 trouble maker who is preventing the protagonist from getting what they want.
Antagonist 2: The person the protagonist thinks is the evil villain of the piece.
Antagonist 3: The Big Bad Boss at the end who is pulling the strings all along.

Ticking Time Bomb: A time limit that means the protagonist can’t ignore the plot for 60 years. The time will suddenly shorten in the middle of the book.

Opening Scene: What happens on pages 1-5?
Twist 1 (25%): The protagonist realizes things aren’t what they seem.
Twist 2 (50%): The protagonist loses something/the ticking time bomb speeds up/a new player arrives
Twist 3 (75%): The protagonist takes a major loss and their goals seem impossible.
Climax/Big Battle: The protagonist fights against all odds.
End Scene: Emotional conclusion that leaves the readers satisfied.
Twist 4: On the last page make the reader see the book in a brand new way.

Emotional Statement of the Book: Every book is a thesis on something you believe, this is your thesis statement. Examples: The love of friends is stronger than the love of lovers. Good defeats evil. Crime doesn’t pay. Ordinary people can be amazing heroes.

Thematic Concepts (themes): Tied to the emotional statement of the book, what concepts are you exploring? Your thematic concepts will probably be similar throughout your body of work.

Visual Concepts: Colors, shapes, or images that repeat throughout the book. You can highlight how a person or thing doesn’t belong by giving them something outside this set of imagery.


The Gift of Failure

Originally published on Savvy Authors in 2015.

The Day Before: A Time And Shadows Time-Travelling MysteryBack when I had just started writing with the intent to publish, around 2006, I printed out a copy of my very first novel and shared it with a friend who had a good taste for books. She was the kind of friend you have in your twenties: flaky, insincere, and negative. In your early twenties you think any attention is good and you let a lot of negative people to clutter your life. Or at least I did. Still, at that point I trusted her opinion and I shared my first novel with her.

“You realize,” she said, “this will never get published. Getting a book published in New York is nearly impossible.” And she handed back the four hundred pages I’d printed at home.

Those pages sat by my bed with a red pen for months. I wanted to edit and send them to an agent, but I was afraid she was right. What if no one wanted my book? What if… perish the thought… I failed???

I couldn’t bear the thought, so I tucked the novel under my bed and started a new one. I researched the publishing industry. I read every single blog post on the new defunct Miss Snark blog. I joined an online writing group. I wrote the next novel and shared my favourite scene with the writing group.

They hated it.

They shredded it.

They didn’t understand my vision or how poignant and awesome this scene would be with the right mood lighting and an epic soundtrack. Or maybe I was just a young, raw writer with a big imagination and not enough practice telling a story well. Either way, the manuscript was dropped. I quit writing it and moved on.

Several more novels died in the same fashion, murdered by a combination of high hopes and rejections.

What changed everything was an off-hand comment to my critique partner when I handed her novel number I-wasn’t-even-counting. “What happens if this isn’t The One?” she asked.

I shrugged. “It’s fine. I have two short stories out and I’m almost done with another novel. It doesn’t matter if this one fails or not.”

And that was the magic trick. Although the novel wound up under the bed for other reasons, it didn’t die of rejection because I had a plan for failing.

The secret I didn’t know when I started writing was that failure is a part of success. Failure isn’t a setback, it’s a stepping stone. It isn’t the end of the road, it’s a curve in the path. Once I started planning for the inevitable failures and rejections my whole process changed.

Watching other writers over the years I realized we were all falling into four groups based on failure.

First there were the people who had a dream but no idea of how to achieve it. They were the ones who talked about writing, but never wrote anything down.

Then there were the people who had dreams and, like I had in my early years, shied away from any perceived failure. If it wasn’t perfection, it was failure. Any poor review was a failure. Any rejection from an e-zine was the end of the world. The people in the second group either outgrew this phase, or quit writing in despair. This isn’t a place you can build a career in.

The third set of people are able to deal with slight setbacks. They know rejections happens and they accept the occasional bad review, but if they’re agent quits, editor leaves, or publisher rejects their next manuscript they fall apart. Not without reason. Those are some pretty major setbacks.

But the smart authors fall into the fourth category, they plan to fail. They know no plan survives first contact with the enemy and before they even query their novel they know exactly what they will do in any contingency. They have a small press back up plan for their Big Press novel. They know how to self-publish if they need to go that route. They know which publishing option is right for their book, and they know how to market any book in any situation.

Even Villains Fall In Love: Heroes and Villains Book 1Planning to fail means these authors don’t waste time moping and wondering what to do next. They can switch gears in a few minutes and move forward with the other plan.

The expectation also provides a much needed emotional buffer. Authors tend to be emotional people. We need to be. Empathy and compassion allow authors to write characters with real emotion that draw out sympathetic emotions from readers. While that’s a boon while writing, it can result in a hot mess when reading reviews. But only if the author is expecting nothing but paeans of praise. If they’re already mentally prepared for the inevitable bad reviews they don’t hurt nearly as much.

Parallel to all of this is a plan for success. Every author daydreams about being the next JK Rowling or Stephen King but few can even articulate what that means.

An author who wants to build a successful career is going to plan ahead, accept failure as the gift it is, and always be ready for the next turn in the road. Publishing no longer moves at a glacial pace. You can go from unagented to agented-with-a-three-book-deal-to-a-major-press in under three months. You can go from unheard of aspiring talent to sensation overnight. If you don’t want those changes to ruin your life, you’ll make a plan for every scenario.

With luck, all you’ll ever need is the plans for major successes. But, if failure comes in any form, you’ll be prepared to tackle the problem and turn a rejection into another stepping stone to acceptance and success.


NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 6: Set The Stage

One last day of boot camp and then you’ll be ready to write your novel like a boss!

… okay, so let me be honest here: I could write more. You could do 31 Days of NaNo Prep. You could spend a year getting a novel together. You could skip all of this and make it up as you go along (fiction is beautiful like that). But there are only six days of boot camp for a reason.

To little preparation leaves you flustered and confused. To much and you get bogged down in the world building. Trust me, if you’re a person who loves research it’s very easy to spend a lifetime building a world and never writing in it. You know who you are.

Because the world matters, because the physical stage you set for the characters influences the story so much, it’s important to take a few minutes before you write the book setting up the background.

Exercise 1: Make A List
– Write a list of 25 places your character may go. You probably won’t use them all, but having them saves you trouble later on.
– Pick specific names e.g. Don’t write The Castle write Berringham Flittworthy Castle. Wolven Woods, Screaming Skull Nebula, Starbreaker Catina
– When your hero needs to rushing off somewhere, grab a name from the list and keep writing.

Exercise 2: Pick Your Main Locations
– Unless you’re writing a traveling story (the quest story line) your scenes will probably only take place in four or five stage settings. Decide where the book opens, where any dead bodies or clues are found (fist bump for the mystery writers), and where your four plot twists will occur.
– Don’t feel you need have lots of locations. There are some great books out there where all the action happens in one building or one room. Use only what you need.

Exercise 3: The Setting Thesaurus 
– If you haven’t already, bookmark or buy the print copy of The Setting Thesarus by Becca and Angela of Writers Helping Writers (buy link – not an affiliate link). Then read through.
– Make your own setting thesaurus for your main locations.
– If that’s too daunting list the 3 main stimuli for each sense in each location.

Happy writing!

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 1: Establish a Baseline
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 2: Finding a Plot
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 3: The Antagonist
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 4: The Protagonist
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 5: Motivation and Inspiration
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 6: Set The Stage