writing tips

Guest Author Cathy Pegau

Five Reasons I Love Speculative Fiction

No matter what basic storyline pops into my head, I always seem to throw an otherworldly curve in it. A western becomes a story about demon hunters on the frontier. A women’s fiction about best friends becomes a ghost story. I love tales that have some kind of “otherness” in them, some twist on what we know as our normal reality. Why does my mind take these turns? I have no idea. But I can tell you why I love reading and writing them.

1) Bending the Rules—or even breaking them (my personal favorite ; ). If you can imagine it, you can write it into your world. As long as you can explain why the sky is green and the grass is blue, why not? Not only can it make a run-of-the-mill story different, but you get to do cool research too.

2) Get Lost—in your imagination. A story set on another planet, in another reality, is a great way to put your own reality aside for a little while. It’s like a mini vacation that costs only a few dollars. And the characters typically have much greater problems than our everyday issues. If the MC can handle alien invaders, I can deal with the evil day job.

3) Turn a Subgenre on Its Head—Space westerns. Elves in Manhattan. Automatons in a Victorian-era mystery. Subgenres and combinations abound in speculative fiction. Granted, too many categories can be a little cumbersome (space elves landing in Victorian Manhattan to solve a murder? Well, maybe…) but if the author does her job even that might fly.

4) Plot-tastic Tales—where the world-building lends itself to wild situations. As long as they make sense, just about anything goes. Hmm…I wonder what those space elves are up to?

5) Super Characters—sometimes literally. Some speculative fiction characters have super powers. Some have wings or pointy ears or pointy teeth. Some change form. Some have kick-ass martial arts skills or pulse weapons and jet packs. No matter what their attributes, skills, talents or tech, a good spec fiction character is a step above mere mortals while retaining traits that the reader finds relatable.

Those are my reasons for loving all manner of speculative fiction, from high fantasy and magic realism to science fiction and steampunk. What about you?

Cathy’s debut F/F Science Fiction Romance Rulebreaker is out from Carina Press now. Here’s the blurb and a short excerpt:

Liv Braxton’s Felon Rule #1: Don’t get emotionally involved.

Smash-and-grab thieving doesn’t lend itself to getting chummy with the victims, and Liv hasn’t met anyone on the mining colony of Nevarro worth knowing, anyway. So it’s easy to follow her Rules.

Until her ex, Tonio, shows up with an invitation to join him on the job of a lifetime.

Until Zia Talbot, the woman she’s supposed to deceive, turns Liv’s expectations upside down in a way no woman ever has.

Until corporate secrets turn deadly.

But to make things work with Zia, Liv has to do more than break her Rules, and the stakes are higher than just a broken heart…

From Rulebreaker, Chapter One:

One of the three masked men raised his rifle and shot a short burst of energy pulses into the ceiling of the First Colonial Bank of Nevarro. Fft-fft-fft-fft-fft. Plaster hit the wood floor in a staccato patter louder than the shots themselves. Ozone, dust and cries of alarm filled the air.

The shooter swung the muzzle toward me. “I said, heads down, lady.”

Gut tight, I complied, imitating the others who had been caught inside the bank when the black-clad men had entered just before closing time. It wasn’t often that I stared into the dark, deadly hole of a weapon. I don’t recommend it as a regular activity.

“Everyone stay down and stay quiet,” he ordered. “We’ll be outta here in two minutes, and y’all can go home alive.”

One of the men in black escorted the teller and the manager to the back of the bank where the vault was. The guard, an elderly couple, Calvin and I lay on our bellies, hands on the backs of our heads and cheeks to the rough wood. The elderly couple had come in to check on their savings.

Cal and I had come in to rob the place ourselves.

Despite the pulse pistol nestled under my clothes against the small of my back, and Cal’s gun tucked in a holster covered by his right pant leg, neither of us was inclined to play hero.

Cal turned his head away from the shooter to glare at me. “Only you, Liv,” he whispered fiercely, “would pick the exact same day to rob a bank as real criminals.”

Real criminals? I opened my mouth to loudly voice my indignation but snapped it shut.

I’d already drawn enough attention to myself. Instead, I returned his harsh whisper. “We are real criminals. This is just poor timing.”

Cal and I had been planning this job for a while. The Exeter Mining Company deposited its employees’ pay during an undisclosed period each month to avoid such actions as, say, robbery. But Cal had finagled the schedule and amounts from a friend. Seventy-five thousand in cold, hard cash had been delivered to this bank in Milchner the day before. Many small-op contract miners preferred hard money to electronic transfer—fewer slipped digits and short changings to worry about.

We chose this branch because it was the most remote, the least secure and had the fewest personnel. Despite its lower take than a branch in one of the larger cities, like Pembroke, it was the perfect hit.

Apparently the competition thought so too.

“We should have done this sooner,” Cal grumbled.

“It’s not my fault my car died,” I said.

This had not been one of my luckier days, or months, or years for that matter. The job was supposed to go down last month, but fast transportation was a must. Cal only had access to a slower model Airvan. A week before the original hit date, the lifters on my somewhat newer, sleeker and more sensitive light air car went offline. Part of this take was earmarked to pay that bill. Damn the void.


Rulebreaker is available from Carina Press Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Visit Cathy at her blog, website or say hello on Facebook and Twitter.

Reading, A Valuable Tool for Writers

Hey everyone! I hope you’re having a fantastic Monday. Today I’m guest blogging at Kinley Baker’s! I’m talking about making a plan as well as my new release Jungle Heat. Stop on over when you have the chance!

First posted June 26, 2011 at The Speculative Salon.

I’m sure we’ve all read an interview with a talented author and skimmed down to the bottom where she gives tips for aspiring authors. Advice from one of the best? Heck yeah, I’m taking it! But then, what you see is that writers should write, write, write and read, read, read. Hmm… Not what was necessarily expected. Writing, that’s an obvious one. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. But what about reading?

Reading is a good way to take in what other authors have done craft and story-wise and see what worked and what didn’t work for them. I’ve always enjoyed reading, but I didn’t give it much time. I had other things to do… like write, socialize, watch TV, etc!

Last year, I challenged myself to read more and stick to my goal. Happily, I did! At the beginning of the year, I found it was easier to read a book without looking too deeply at the writing craft, but as the year progressed, it was easier to see what the writer did well or not and how I could improve myself even more.

Basically, when you’re sitting there slaving away on honing your craft by writing your next book and reading a ton of writer’s reference books — you are, right? — give yourself permission to step back and go read. Aside from being fun, you might find your writing skill improving!

Stephen King said in his book On Writing, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

If you have been reading, do you think it’s helped? If you haven’t, what’s stopping you?


I figured it’s pretty timely for me to talk about revisions since I just finished some for Hacked Investigations 2: Savage Bytes.

Also, don’t forget… In celebration of finishing up Savage Bytes and Jungle Heat’s recent release, I’m going to do a giveaway of one (maybe two depending on how many comments I get this week) of your choice of either Techno Crazed or Jungle Heat if you leave a comment. You’ll get one extra entry for each of the following, follow the blog, follow my Twitter @sarahmakela, and Tweet or Retweet. (Please let me know in the comment, if you do the extra entries.) I’ll pick the winner(s) next Friday!

Anyways, I used to think of revising as going to line one, sentence one and line-editing straight on through. Maybe doing that multiple times, and boom! Done! Not anymore. I’ve actually developed a system. Something, if you follow my blog, know is pretty rare for me. Still, revisions are intense. They tend to take me a little longer to complete (probably also due to the fact that I don’t read at super speed like some people *winks*).

I do have to admit though. I’m beginning to slowly find them easier, especially now that I have a system, which is fairly new since I only started with it at the beginning of this year. Another thing is I’m also less intimidated by the process of going through the book and making it shine. In fact, some days I prefer it to writing, but then again, I think that switches whenever I’m doing one or the other. I’ve had days where I’d prefer to write than edit. Usually when I’m to the point where I’m revising, I don’t have time to let myself go with whims and fancies. 🙂 By that point, I’ve used up those privileges.

Anyways, here’s my revision process. Hopefully it helps!

  1. I print out the entire story and then wince because I’m not a fan of using lots of paper. (Although, it doesn’t work as well for me when reading over the manuscript on screen the first time.) 
  2. I grab some post-it notes, a pen, and my manuscript. 
  3. Read over the manuscript making notes about major things that bug me. (Step away from the typos and grammar! It’s not time for that yet.) 
  4. Once I’m done with that, I implement the changes for the notes I made and kick myself for making so many great catches. 
  5. Next, I do line edits. 
  6. Sending it off to a critique partner is an awesome idea. Although, sometimes it’s not possible due to deadlines and schedules.
  7. Also, if there’s extra time, I’ll either put the story through a text-to-speech program to have it read to me, or I’ll read it work out loud. I’ve tried it and caught errors doing so. Although, after a while my tongue started tripping over words. lol

So, that’s my process! What’s yours? Do you have tips for making it through revisions (somewhat) painlessly?

Utilizing What Makes You Happy

Originally Posted at Savvy Authors: June 3, 2011

That might sound kind of strange since we’re supposed to write books and get serious about the craft and our plots and getting our butts in the chair to write and…. Well, all of that is true, but sometimes, writers should go with an idea, a character, a plot twist or whatever the spark is that makes them happy. Your story takes hard work to write down, revise, and query. Why go through that process with something that doesn’t thrill you?

I’ve been writing for quite a while. It’s been three years since I’ve had something, anything, published. Yes, I wrote things I enjoyed before, but what is it that I think really took my upcoming release to the next level? Two things. One: I’ve had all of this time to practice the craft while writing several books. Two: I had a LOT of fun writing Techno Crazed. I guess, hopefully, those showed through to the editors and contest judges who picked my manuscript up.

So, how can you utilize what makes you happy? Easy! When I started planning my novella in late December, I threw around ideas. Ideas that made me laugh as well as ones that were more serious and dramatic since the book is pretty dark at times. So don’t think I’m writing a romantic comedy! I love those, but my point is, you can — and probably should — throw in humor to any kind of book. Or what makes you happy in general.

What made me especially happy shaped during the writing. During Thanksgiving and Christmas, there was a video game I played called Fable 3. I really, really loved the game, so when I started my next project, I added in something that reminded me of it. Something other people probably wouldn’t think of unless they played the game and read my book, but if you’re curious… it’s the gnome. Yes, my book is a cyberpunk romance. Yes, I do have a gnome! haha And not just any gnome, but a pretty foul-mouthed and moody one.

Here are some tips for finding and using what makes you happy in your writing:

• If there’s something you find inspiring, think about how you could work it into your novel.
• Add some humor to your novel.
• Take time to enjoy hobbies.
• Read outside your genre.
• Give your manuscript time to breathe before you revise it.

The Easiest Part of Writing

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

Hey everyone, I hope you’re having a great Monday! I’m going to try to slid back into doing writing related posts on Mondays. Although, I know there will probably be times when I have other things to share instead. *grin*

Anyways, today’s topic is “the easiest part of writing.” This topic is difficult and simple all at the same time. There really isn’t an easiest part when it comes to writing. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been writing because while there are areas where I feel I’ve come a long way in, but I don’t necessarily consider them easy.

There’s a saying that, “writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.” I tried to find out where that came from, but only found what Thomas Edison’s thoughts on genius, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” So I guess writers have it made. *laughs*

I agree with the writing quote since I have several ideas for novels and novellas, yet getting them down and then revising them — let alone finding publication — can be much more challenging. Why? It involves that large dose of perspiration. Some days it’s a concentrated effort to sit down and write, yet it’s easy to lean back, daydream for a moment, and get  the greatest idea for a new story.

So, what do I feel most comfortable with? That’s probably a better term than “easy.” I enjoy coming up with new story and character ideas. Meeting new and intriguing people and figuring out what odds are against them and what they want is always really exciting for me.

There’s also dialogue. I enjoy writing dialogue because that allows the characters the opportunity to show their personalities through the words they say, or don’t say. I’ve met people who have a hard time writing dialogue, but I just think of it as if I’m watching my hero and heroine talk like I’m watching them on the movie screen in my head. Basically, just listen to the voices in your head. No, you’re not crazy. You’re a writer!

What about you? What do you feel most comfortable with when it comes to writing? I’d love to hear what y’all have to say.

Guest Author Bella Street


Thank you Sarah for having me here today!

One of my favorite things about writing is the use of tropes, or common themes, in stories. I know some will cry cliché, but what makes a cliché such is that everyone can relate to it. The same idea applies to tropes. The trick is to give it a little twist and make it one’s own.

One of my favorite tropes is ‘fish out of water’. Seeing characters grapple with a new unfamiliar world, while falling in love, natch, is just a fun story to write. And time-travel makes it oh-so easy.

In my first novel Kiss Me, I’m Irish, a girl from regency-era Cornwall is fast-forwarded to modern-day Tennessee—from a life of relative privilege and comfort to having to depend on a starving artist and his thieving sister. The ideal environment for a romance, right? Of course!

In my latest series, Apocalypse Babes, the main characters are sent into the past, to a year before they were born, but in a time maybe not as unfamiliar to them as they thought. In Book One, The Z Word, Seffy Carter and her longtime friends Gareth, Addison and Lani, share a past dysfunctional and dark enough to keep them bound together under do-over identities. But rends develop in their relationships from the flesh-eating pressures of ending up in 1980, in a Montana desert, surrounded by zombies wearing dated disco duds.

So not only is there time travel, but zombies! Zombies are a great trope symbolizing the fact that one can’t out-run not only death, but secrets as well. Add magical pink velour (the ‘twist’) and you got yourself a novel series! Er, at least, I do.

Perhaps the best trope of all is that people like free stuff. In honor of that common desire, The Z Word is free at Smashwords. And if you want to review it, blog about it, rant or tweet about The Z Word, you also can enter my contest! The grand prize is a Juicy Couture tracksuit (*Legal: publisher cannot confirm magical properties or the lack thereof of said tracksuit), with second and third prizes of Pink perfume by Victoria’s Secret and an Amazon gift card, and other free stuff as well. Check out Apocalypse Babes for details and rules.

So indulge your desire to connect with themes common to humanity (reading, zombies, free stuff) while being amazed at the twists (what’s the author been sniffing??), and enter for that thrill of maybe winning something cool and/or free.

Visit the author at www.bellastreetwrites.com. Read her blog at www.bellastreetwrites.blogspot.com, send her Tweets @BellaStreet. Don’t forget Face Book! And please read The Z Word. It won’t cost you a thing and maybe then the zombies won’t get you*.

*But they probably will.

Writing Sex Scenes

Hey everyone, if you’re interested in reading the first chapter of Techno Crazed, you can find it here.

With any romance novel (or novella), there’s got to be romance! Some people who don’t read or write romance might think romance writers sit at our desks with candles aglow and massage oil on hand when writing sex scenes. Some might, and that’s cool if it works for them. Although, when it comes down to it, most writers I’ve heard talk (or seen write) about this say they tend to either skip over them leaving **insert sex scene here** or they muscle through them even if they’re not “in the mood.”

Then again, I think that goes back to the fact that writing, while fun, is work. If someone wants to get published, and stay published, they have to produce novels, and that means writing even when they’re not in the mood. There’s no waiting for the muse to strike before getting to the computer or notepad to write. And back to the topic of sex scenes!

I’ve been trying to muscle through a sex scene this week, and I have to admit, it’s been… kind of… blah. Yep, both the scene and the writing of it. I know I’m going to need to go back through it and revise it heavily. And no, I haven’t been “in the mood,” but then again, after writing a few sex scenes, it’s a little more go in, write it down, and get out.

I will concede that some sex scenes still are fun, especially when they’re in a new and crazy place. Or maybe the characters are totally out there. Or maybe I’m just really into the writing that day, but on average, they’re another scene that needs to get down on the page for revising for me. But! Sexual tension, that’s another beast altogether. I love that.

So what do you think? Do you enjoy writing sex scenes? Why or why not? What are your ways of dealing with them?

5 Tips for Keeping Your Sanity (and Cash) While Promoting

Hey everyone! Make sure to stop by the My Books section to see an excerpt from Techno Crazed! I hope you all enjoy it. Also, I’m guest blogging at Gabriella Hewitt’s about The DO’s and DON’Ts of Caring for Gnomes. Stop by and say hi!

Now on to the topic. I’ve been on my blog tour for a little over a week now, and I have several more stops to go. How hard is it to have a little under twenty stops in a single month as well as hitting other venues? Whoa… just… whoa… I’m amazed at others who handle it effortlessly without breaking a sweat. (Although, between us, I haven’t met a person like that.)

So, how about those tips?

  1. Check out blogs you enjoy reading and fit with the genre or theme of the book you’re promoting and ask to guest blog, if they do that. Blog tours only cost time and effort. No money involved.
  2. Review sites like Romance Reader at Heart, Love Romances Cafe, Coffee Time Romance, Night Owl Reviews and The Romance Studio (among others) tend to have free promotional opportunities. Sometimes, they also have special opportunities like Release Parties or chances to do pure shameless promo.
  3. If you’re like me and have to think long and hard about blog topics, go for interviews at some of your blog tour spots. Yes, you run the risk of having several places ask the same questions, but they’re also a breath of fresh air when you’re scrambling for ideas. 
  4. As much as you want to saturate the internet with your presence for the book release, you have to know your limit. It’s not a good idea to sign up for more than you can handle and then have to cancel some of your spots because you realize you’ve over-committed.
  5. If you do decide to get a paid cover ad/banner ad/etc, do your research and figure out where you feel will be the best place(s) instead of dishing out a ton of money for several places. Also, ask others who have done it before, they might have interesting information to help you decide. 

Do you have any advice when it comes to keeping your sanity and money while promoting?

Guest Author Theresa Meyers

Where’d you get that idea?

For me as a writer, all the world’s a shopping mall of ideas. Getting ideas isn’t the problem, it’s actually sifting through them for the best ones that is tougher. For example, the title of my latest book, The Vampire Who Loved Me, came off of a brainstorming session after watching a James Bond moviethon one holiday weekend. Of course it also produced other ideas like The Vampire with the Golden Fang, Being Vampire is not Enough and From My Vampire With Love. Others writer were kind enough to suggest The Vampire Strikes Back and even Cloudy with a Chance of Vampires (because the Sons of Midnight series is set in Seattle).

Music is another source of inspiration. Usually, when I start a new book, I create a soundtrack to go with it. There’s usually all different types of music blended together, everything from heavy metal and country to jazz and hip hop. Any song is fodder if it speaks to me about the story. For writing on The Vampire Who Loved Me, the song “Wake Me Up Inside” by Evanescence so perfect captured Achilles’s journey that I found myself playing over and over again on an endless loop in the pivotal scenes I wrote in his point of view.

Bits of conversation while standing in line at the bank or grocery store, a jingle from a radio commercial, even some random news story are all sources for ideas for me. When it comes to characters I’ll often remember a particular mannerism of a person or they way they spoke that becomes part of a character that’s a mash up of several different individuals.

There are many times when one idea will collide with another. It’s not at all unusual when I’m in the middle of writing one book to get ideas for two or three others. While it’s tempting to go after something new, pretty and shiny, I’ve found that writing the germ of the idea on an idea sheet and filing it away on my computer helps me focus on getting the present work done, while still capturing the creativity while it’s fresh.

When I first start a story there’s a ton of brainstorming that happens where no idea is a bad idea. They all get listed at random on a sheet of paper. Sometimes one idea will spark four or five more scenes in the story. Once I’ve brainstormed, I’ll start organizing the scene ideas on a plot board to try and make sense of the flow of the story and make sure I’m not leaving important threads dangling. Each story thread gets its own color and each scene gets its own sticky note on a poster board divided into squares (one per chapter). I normally end up with between three to six sticky notes of various colors in the same chapter.

Sometimes it’s the research that brings new ideas to the surface. When I was researching the process geneticists use to create new vaccines I found out about all kinds of things they could do to create a new vaccine and the various ways it could go wrong or right. That became an integral part of The Vampire Who Loved Me when the main female character, Dr. Rebecca Chamberlin is given a dose of her own vaccine before it’s been thoroughly tested. It results in her starting to transition into a vampire, but getting stuck mid-way through the process. Historically researchers in the early years often tested on themselves and sometimes on other “forgotten” members of the population such as the mentally ill or those in prisons. While that’s been many, many decades ago, it still intrigued me.

As for why I ended up with a virus that causes vampirism in the first place, well, that idea came from one simple question: Why is it you never really hear of vampires being thousands of years old? (Sure there are a few, but by and large most are only hundreds of years old.) My brain started to spin and I thought about what in a biological system can bring down a top predator. The answer was simple: a virus. But what would this virus be like? How would it impact those who had stronger immune systems? Could it be reversed? How would people react when they found out first that vampires were real and second that they were in danger of being turned into vampires by exposure to a virus? I suppose it’s just the way a writer’s mind words. I know. I’m out of my mind, but there’s a good reason. It’s dark and scary in there. LOL.

So the next time you’re tempted to ask a writer, where’d you get that idea from? Make sure they aren’t looking at you too intently. They may be taking notes.

The Vampire Who Loved Me
Book #2 in the Sons of Midnight mini-series from Harlequin Nocturne
By Theresa Meyers
ISBN: 0373618603
ISBN13: 978-0373618606
Releases: May 24, 2011


Dr. Rebecca Chamberlin hated nothing more than the vampires who had turned her loved ones into creatures of the night…until she became one herself. Now her experimental vaccine has become more urgent than ever, and has made her the target of vampire security chief Achilles Stefanos.


Built like a god with golden hair and an irresistible allure, Achilles made her feel passion the way no mortal man had before. Beck could no more deny her craving for him than she could the hated bloodlust in her veins. But when her vaccine fell into the wrong hands, Beck has a difficult choice to make—one that challenged everything she’d always believed…..

Dark and dangerous, the Sons of Midnight are a temptation that few can resist!

What Happens in a Pitch Session?

Recently, my friend Darcy Drake asked on Twitter about what happens during a pitch. There are a ton of articles on crafting your perfect pitch, but if you’ve never been through it, it can be pretty darn intimidating. I know it was for me. But the results can be awesome! I tied for the win in Changeling Press’s Shamrock Challenge after a chat room pitch session during Savvy Authors‘s DigiCon. Now two of my novellas (a cyberpunk and a paranormal romance) are contracted.

There are pretty much three different kinds of pitching opportunities. One is a face to face with an editor or agent, usually at a conference or retreat. There are also chat room pitch sessions, which mirrors face to face, except you’re in a chat room in the comfort of your own home. The third kind is blog pitching, which you post a three-line pitch for. Savvy Authors has several of these coming up this year.

Anyways, the types I’ll be talking about are face to face and chat rooms. They each have pros and cons. With face-to-face, you can see the other person’s reaction to what you’re saying, but it’s easier to get freaked out and scatterbrained too. With chat rooms, you can pitch in your pajamas and not be sitting in front of the editor or agent, but it’s harder to tell what they’re thinking during the process because you can’t see their faces.

Now for the process as I’ve experienced it. You wait for your turn, try to calm your nerves, and hope that it goes well. Then you’re off and greeting the agent/editor. With both types of pitching, I usually start by saying, “Hello, my name is Sarah Mäkelä…” and jump straight into it.

After you give your pitch, the editor/agent will, most of the time, ask questions. Although, you might get an editor who says at that they don’t think it’d be a good fit for them. And that is why it’s good to have a second story ready when pitching. When that happened to me, I pulled out a pitch for another story since it’d only taken about 3-4 minutes for my first pitch and for the editor to tell me they didn’t have much of a market for my story. She ended up requesting the second one though!

But I digress… The questions. Be prepared! I received a question during one of my first pitches where the agent asked what the climax of the story was. I sat there and scratched my head, not remembering what it was or what to say. haha Not good… I got a request for a synopsis from that, but it’s not a good feeling to flub. Other times, there have been questions that made me ponder the answer because it was something beyond what I’d really thought of, but I answered without a lot of trouble. They will let you sit there for a few moments and gather your thoughts. There’s no need to feel like freaking out. All of the people I’ve pitched to have been very nice and if you do get stuck on something, they might try to help out and gently prompt you.

The ones I’ve done have been about 10 minutes long, so you have a decent amount of time, but it usually flies by. At the end, a moderator (both in person and in chat rooms) might pop in to make sure you don’t go over the time limit. At that point, start wrapping things up, maybe exchange business cards and/or copy down information if requests were made. Leave the pitch feeling either super excited, mildly enthused, or disappointed.

Have you ever been in a pitch session? Was it face to face or via a chat room? Any tips you’d like to share?