Saturday, December 17, 2011

Emotion Belongs Somewhere Else Besides in Your Manuscript: An Exercise

Take a look at the following words:

overwhelming pleasure
incipient hope

What do you notice about there words?  Most are adjectives.  Some are nouns.  One is an adverb.

Okay, go deeper--what do you feel about these words?  Does reading down the list make your heart beat a little faster?  Does it cause you to imagine something, well--exciting?  Does it make you wonder how all these words fit together?

Is this the kind of book you'd like to be reading right now?

Romance writers--is this the kind of book you'd like to be writing right now?!

Okay, now click here for the source.  It is the amazing author Sherry Thomas's query letter (on Pub Rants, literary agent Kristin Nelson's blog)  for what eventually became Private Arrangements, the smashing debut that put her on the map.

I was reading through all the outstanding query letters listed on Ms. Nelson's blog, trying to figure out what makes them outstanding.  And of course it's many things.  But what I realized is that presenting your fabulous story idea isn't enough for a query.  You have to present it emotionally.  When you read the common advice, use the same tone in your query as your manuscript, this may be (at least in part) what that means. 

Readers buy for the emotional experience.  (After all, we're not writing textbooks, are we?)  So agents are looking for that, too.  It's a hard task to distill a 350-page book into a one-page query letter, and it's even harder to do it with feeling, enthusiasm, and excitement.  But forgetting to convey the reasons you wrote the story in the first place is like leaving the sugar out of the sugar cookie batter.  (Sorry, I had to get a holiday analogy in there somewhere :)

Happy Holidays, Everyone!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

High Concept Tree

I have never (until now) seen a pine tree that changes colors and LOSES its needles.  A deciduous pine?!!! 

Even scarier, I saw it and thought, this tree is EXACTLY the kind of thing we strive for as writers of fiction.  That unique twist on the usual that is so compelling it makes you immediately turn your head!

(I think I need a break)...but anyway, Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Want to write for Mills and Boon? Read This!

A few weeks ago I told you the Mills and Boon first chapter competition topped out at 1090 entries.  Well, today they announced the winner, Natalie Charles, for her story The Seven Day Target.  Check out her story here 

For the rest of us who didn't final:  the Mills and Boon editors selected 20 random first chapters and wrote up very short and helpful critiques on each.  They are posted in four batches of five here (On the website, select the dropdown "News.")

This is a wonderful opportunity to read some interesting entries and understand what these editors are looking for.  

Nothing like learning by example! Check it out!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Slaying the Dragon--Every Day

Every day, the same fear seizes me.  I sit at my keyboard, hands poised, and I freeze.  And that horrible, whining voice starts in.

"What if you're not clever enough?" (or funny enough, smart enough, entertaining enough, just fill in the blank) it says, mocking me. 
"Do you actually think you can put words into coherent sentences?  You actually think you are clever enough to tell a story?"

Every single day, I must find the will to stop this dreadful voice, the voice of my deeptest fears, and continue despite it, drown it out, override it.

It never gets easier. 

Desperation, despair, hope.  They all mix together as I bleed words onto each screen page.  Pieces of my soul I bear for all to see. 

Okay, that's a bit dramatic.  But it is October, and it is Golden Heart time once again.  My goal is to have my manuscript done and in querying shape by the sort-of-end of November.  The Golden Heart offers the perfect excuse to do that--the first 50 pages in tiptop shape, a synopsis, and the whole manuscript on disc.

This is a marathon of willpower.  Every day I grit my teeth and sit down.  Every day I stay planted.  It seems it will never end.  There are too many pages, I will never get to the end.  There is too much to do, too much to fix, too many glitches to smoothe out.  And when I finally type THE END, I worry it will suck so badly I will have to write the entire thing over.  Sisyphus and his rock, the eternal climb. 

Being a writer means for me that I am always conquering myself.  It's a constant mind workout, a battle between my strong self and my weak self.  A constant buckling down, a discipline to keep going regardless of which voice, the Good One or the Bad One,  is the dominant one in my head for the day.

Eventually, the story takes over, most of the time, and the voices quiet (the Haldol helps quite a lot, too--just kidding).

Did I also mention the food voices?  The ones that cry, get coffee!  Get cookies!  Chocolate emergency NOW!!!  Have to beat those down frequently, too. 

Yet we endure this, day after day, because of something--something great that we occasionally partake in.  A process of creation.  A yearning to tell our tales, to show that flawed people can prevail regardless of what life throws at them.  That love brings out the best in all of us.   That forgiveness and redemption are priceless.

The messages we are meant to tell, I honestly believe, are more important than all our fears and weaknesses.  And that's the sword I keep by my computer every day.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Mills and Boon Competition Tops Out at Over 1,000 Entries

The Mills and Boon New Voices Competition just closed today with 1,090 entries.  Wow.  Read the amazing first chapters of as many as you like in six different categories at

And of course you can check out my entry, A Bride for the Bachelor, where a workaholic New York editor and a carefree reality show star spar over a baby, at

Enjoy all the fun!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rubies Discuss GH Tips

Well, my first page was not one of the 4 finalists on the Ruby Sisters blog last week but if you haven't already, go and read the wonderfully creative ones that did final.  This little contest underscored the importance of the first line and the first page of your manuscript.  From now till October 13th, the Rubies are posting the first pages of their GH-winning manuscripts and offering tips about making your first page GH-worthy.  Best of all they are doing it by GH category.  Find all this great stuff at  

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fun with the Rubies Today

Are you polishing up your manuscript for the RWA's Golden Heart contest?  Pop on over to The Ruby Slippered Sisterhood today to check out the finalists in their First Line contest.  The Rubies (who are the 2009 Golden Heart winners) took 100 first-line entries and voted to choose 11 favorites.  Those 11 will submit the first 250 words of their manuscripts today on the blog (up till midnight tonight).

So does your manuscript begin with description?  Maybe of the setting?  Well, take a look at these lines and they will encourage you to look at your ms again and come up with a snappy, clever first-line hook to draw your reader in. 

Oh, and BTW, I'm one of the finalists! :)

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Book You Wait For

I knew it was going to be one of those books.  The kind that keep you from doing anything you're supposed to be doing, the kind that makes you stay up too late and feel terrible the next day.  The kind where you cannot STAND not to turn the page, over and over again. 

And nope, it was not my usual kind of love.  I'm not much into futuristic dystopian societies with high discomfort factors.  And this was not only riveting to read, it was also very UNCOMFORTABLE to read. 

So what was the book?  Well, it was The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  I had it under my bed in my book stash for a year and a half.  Knowing I would never put it down once I picked it up, I avoided it, until my fourteen-year-old son needed it for his freshman lit class.

Wow, what a book.  Here are my thoughts on what I learned about writing a book that you simply cannot put down:

--You (i.e., the reader) immediately sympathize with the heroine because she is a normal person in an impossible situation, and she immediately makes an unselfish choice that may cost her her life.  She makes this choice out of love.  We also learn that she has done remarkable things to keep her family alive.  She is one tough cookie.

Note to aspiring author self:  Don't let you heroine hang about and wring her hands because she's not going to the ball, Cinderella!    Make her do something!  Make her remarkable!  Don't let her be a victim, where things happen to her.  Make her make things happen, despite her unhappy circumstances.  This can be a problem amongst us historical writers--to have a strong heroine who starts off fighting against her societal constraints, etc., but still be period-appropriate.  But it is essential.   (The stars aligned for me at RWA and I won a critique by author Kris Kennedy who brought this to my attention.  And I saw it played out in this book so well.  To see Kris's tough-cookie heroine, just read her book The Irish Warrior and you'll see what I mean.) 

--There is a very strong external conflict and it is a high-concept conflict.  The heroine's life is at risk on EVERY page.  You must turn the page to find out what happens next.  

Note to self:  You must have an idea that is a twist or turn or a novel spin on the tried and true. 

--The book jumpstarts immediately and does not let you go until the very last page.  Even when the main conflict ends, we worry about something else until the very last word.

Note:  Pacing pacing pacing.  High stakes.  We are so emotionally involved with this teenage girl, we really CARE what happens to her.

--The love triangle also has high stakes involved with it.  And it is a completely mystery how the heroine is going to solve this.

Note:  Keep your reader wondering.

This is really a brilliant book in so many ways.  The writing is concise, the way the book is constructed (as part 1 of a trilogy) is clever.  It stirs conversation about deep topics and moral issues--hence it will be perfect for my son's lit class and many other classes, or for anyone who enjoys discussing important issues.  And it will be a classic and timeless read for years to come.   

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Quirky Things Writers Do

A few days ago, I finished the first draft of a novel I began writing in April under the tutelage of Lori Wilde in her Novel in Six Months Class at SavvyAuthors.  It came in at around 77,000 words.  Now mentally exhausted and physically drained, I took the entire weekend off to reboot my weary self.  Four romantic comedies and one Jane Austenesque book later, I found myself (as I sipped cold sparkling water in my back yard while reclining with aforementioned book) becoming introspective about the crazy life writers lead.

--Writing the climax of this book-in-progess of mine was the most agonizing thing I have ever done.  I could not sleep until I got my hero and heroine out of crisis and tucked safely into their happily-ever-after.  It took about a week for me to navigate those tricky scenes and I was mentally and physically affected.  An example:  my daughter asked me a question while I was furiously typing away and I mumbled an answer...and then she asked, "Mom, why did you just answer me in a British accent?!"   The characters in my head were coming out to torment the rest of my life!

--Author Steve Berry, when he spoke at RWA in NYC earlier this summer, said something really interesting.  He said (and this is from scrawls in my little notebook--so it's a paraphrase)--Every writer he's ever known has a little voice in their head.  I have known about my little voice for quite some time now.  But this was a revelation!  Someone was actually admitting this out loud!   On observing someone or something, the voice says particular things like, she cast her weary eyes downward or her skirt pouffed out like a skein of cotton candy at the most unexpected times.   What a relief to know that others hear The Voice, too!

--What caused all this reflection was a passage in the book I am currently reading, A Weekend with Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly.   The book is about an English professor who's secret passion is reading Regency romance novels, especially ones by a particular favorite author.  (You can read more about this charming book  here--this review made me instantly download the book.)  Anyway, the author character in the book makes this revelatory comment about writers (here's a bit of a setup before the comment for context):

"Warwick watched her as she looked around the hall, tiny white teeth biting her lower lip, and a part of him wanted to go help her--to take her bag and say, 'Come this way,' but the writer in him stayed perfectly still and watched.

That was one of the things about being a writer--one always stood slightly apart, listening and watching.  It was hard to tell sometimes, if one were really alive, for life seemd to be happening to everybody else, and yet the writer's lot seemed to be one of permanent stillness.  Had Jane Austen felt like that?  he wondered."

So, do you get emotionally involved with imaginary people in your head?  Have difficulties with the voice that rambles around in there at the most inappropriate times?  Or find yourself observing and imbibing the details of life, sort of voyeuristically?   You may not need Haldol after just might be a Writer.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Keeping the Reader in the Story--Advice from Susan Elizabeth Phillips at RWA 2011

[Today I thought I'd share with you an article I wrote for the July issue of my local chapter newsletter.]  [Wasn't Nationals fun?!]

Susan Elizabeth Phillips, bestselling author of contemporary romance, gave a talk to a packed room at RWA Nationals on “Writing the Bestseller:  Six Magic Words.”  She was highly entertaining and hilarious and packed a wealth of knowledge into this talk.  

What makes a great read so compelling the reader can’t put it down?  Either the plot is so riveting, or you care about the characters so much you can’t stop reading, or the author is showing you something you’ve never seen before. 

Susan cautioned that writing a compelling book is not the same as writing the perfect book, which she defined as a book where you follow all the rules.

You’ve got to KEEP THE READER IN THE STORY (those are the six magic words).  Anything that pulls the reader out—DON’T DO.  So here are FOUR tips to keep the reader in the story:

1.  Work to master good craft.
Lack of mastery of grammar, use of repetitive words, awkward sentence structure, and clunky use of research will lose your reader.  She is not a purist about POV shifts but if the reader notices, shame on you.  Master your craft before you break the rules.

She gives herself permission to “put garbage on the screen,” knowing at some point she’s going to have to go back and correct a lot of things.  If you’re a perfectionist, leave your perfectionism behind!

2.  Keep the reader in the story by creating dazzling characters, ones we cannot bear to be parted from.  You want to get an emotional reaction from your reader.  This means that your characters are sympathetic BUT NOT PERFECT.  You can give your characters lots of flaws if you keep their heart pure.  Characters in popular fiction should be realistic but still LARGER THAN LIFE.  (Susan got a huge laugh when she joked that this is unlike literary fiction, which mimics life—“which is why it’s so damn boring.”)

Characters must have well-motivated actions.  Don’t sacrifice character just to move your plot forward.  Rather, keep your plot moving forward by giving your characters strengths and weaknesses.  Let your characters grow throughout the story so that by the end, they are able to do something that they couldn’t at the beginning.

Give them strong individual voices.  Nail each scene emotionally.  When you’re done, go back and read only the scenes with the heroine in them all the way to the end—then go back and do this for the hero.  Then you will be able to chart their relationship and their relationship with all the other characters in every scene.

3. Create a fast-moving plot.  It’s easy—just LEAVE OUT THE BORING PARTS.  You can write them, just cut them out before the end.  This means backstory, research, any character staring out the window, too much internal dialogue, etc.  Weave in backstory as seamlessly as possible and in bits and pieces.

End chapters on a cliffhanger.  If the scene has a resolution that would make the reader stop and go to bed, bury it in the middle of the chapter.
Subplots should begin after the main story and end before it.  If the main plot runs out of steam, she switches to the subplot to mix it up.

Raise stakes as high as possible.  She takes out a yellow pad and writes AND THEN THINGS GET WORSE and then brainstorms all the possibilities, writing down anything and everything that comes to mind.

4.  Keep the reader in the story by writing to your strengths, not just the market.  Feedback from readers can help identify your strengths.  Use critique groups carefully.  She has found that being critiqued while she is in process doesn’t work for her—so she waits until she has a finished product to share.  She said you do what you have to do to produce and you have to get tough about protecting your work.  So you have to find the method that works best for you.  

This was a great talk—the best I heard at Nationals.  If you get a chance to listen to it when the disc comes out, I highly recommend it.  Oh, and if you haven't already, you can find Susan Elizabeth Phillips at

Monday, June 27, 2011

I had to go to France to find an English Garden

I just came back from the family vacation of a lifetime and wanted to share this with you...and then I promise, I will stop talking about gardens!

We went to France, even though, alas, I of course wanted to go to England.  But with two teens who have taken years of French, France won out.  (That's okay, some day it will be Regency England tour without the teens!)

Below is a picture of the very French gardens at the palace of Versailles, outside of Paris.   Notice the geometrical lines, the regularity imposed on the disorder of nature, which indicted how the king had the power to impose his will on his vast kingdom.  (The source on this is here, a PBS link, but the picture is mine.)

The long sight lines are a metaphor for the king's power, which extends in all directions, as far as the eye can see. 


But just around the corner (okay, these gardens are pretty vast, so farther than that) is Marie Antoinette's Hamlet (the "Hameau de la Reine") which was her private retreat in the park of the palace built around 1785-92.   This retreat was complete with rustic buildings and was a real working farm.  It has a pond and a windmill and various little buildings.  But the best part, at least for me, is that it has an English garden!

Notice the meandering gravel paths that wind around the sights,

the benches that offer a place to admire the view or to reflect on the scenery...

And here's the requisite folly--the classical Temple of Love, with Cupid in the middle.

From far away, it looked really small.

Here are some shady characters crossing a little bridge.

The paths, just as in Jane Austen's day, were quite wide, condusive to talking and walking. 

 But the best part of all was the ha-ha wall.  (Another shady character standing atop that!)

So you can really tell a difference between the winding paths and broken vistas of the English garden vs. the linearity and expansiveness of the French one.   Voila!

Next stop for me is RWA Nationals!  See you all there!


Monday, June 6, 2011

In the Garden with Jane Austen: Part 2, The Shrubbery

I promised to take you on a tour of an English shrubbery, as Kim Wilson describes it in her beautiful book In the Garden with Jane Austen. (Please see my last post if you want more information about the book.)

The English garden was built to be experienced by walking through it and discovering surprising elements--vistas, benches, follies, grottoes, etc.

For now, just imagine that you are a Regency heroine, and you are spending time at your family’s great country estate.  You’d like the health benefits of a daily constitutional, but it’s rained recently and the countryside has turned into a muddy quagmire (channel Keira Knightly as Elizabeth trapsing through the mud to see her sick sister Jane at Bingley’s estate) You don’t dare get wet, knowing that wet feet could kill a person, especially a woman with her flimsy shoes and (arguably) more fragile constitution.  What to do?

Garden path in a Regency shrubbery.

Well, the architect of your estate has done something just for you.  He (she?—I hope there were some “she” architects) has created for you the shrubbery, that fantastic, carefully arranged walk that will lead you through a variety of carefully arranged gardens, trees, shrubs, all with quick-draining gravel and long enough for you to get some real exercise.  (It was a great relief for me to learn that there actually was “gravel” back then.  I get tired of writing about cobblestones. :) )           

These walks were sometimes wide enough to accommodate three people astride.  Wilson tells us that the walks at Netherfield, Mr. Bingley’s estate in Pride and Prejudice, certainly were.  Elizabeth, being the fourth person, went off by herself rather than tag along on the paths with Mr. Darcy, Miss Bingley, and Mrs. Hurst.  

The shrubbery meandered through the pleasure grounds, led to various viewpoints and seats, then wound back around to the house.  Sylvia Florifera, who wrote a book called The Shrubbery in 1823, describes it like this: 

“...each walk should lead to a particular Object; to the orchard, kitchen garden, botanical borders, green-house, dairy, ice-house, mushroom-hut, aviary, poultry-yard, or stables.  The intention of the plantation should seem to be, to conduct the walker in the most agreeable manner to each outlet and building of utility or pleasure.”

Look how extensive the original plan of Stowe Garden (Buckinghamshire, England) was in 1739.

This is a color plate from a book called Observations on Modern Gardening, and Laying Out Pleasure-Grounds, Parks, Ridings, etc. by Horace, Earl of Orford, and ornamented with plates chiefly designed by Mr. Wollet. 

This is a German estate (Rastatt Favorite Palace) but it has an English garden.

Stowe Gardens, designed by William Kent.

Two more of Stowe, above and below.

A shrubbery could be open, i.e., planted on one side, or closed, (on both).  Of course, the closed kind is far more beneficial for everything secretive your heroine must do on her socially acceptable walk, since the shrubbery will give her ample opportunity to get as close to your hero as you’d like. 

The aesthetics of the plantings in the shrubbery were important.  Garden books at the time suggested planting various shades of green and flowers that would bloom in succession so that the blooms would always be plentiful.  Groupings of plants were preferred to planting flowers at regularly spaced intervals, because the later would look, per Sylvia Florifera, like “beaux and belles standing up for a quadrille or country dance.”

Sheringham Hall

This is a watercolor of Sheringham Hall in Norfolk, designed by the premier landscaper of 18th century England, Sir Humphrey Repton (1752-1818).  He considered the landscaping of this estate his finest work.

This is Bramham Park, Yorkshire.  The picture shows an example of the English Forest style from the early 1700's, with avenues and extensive plantings of forest trees.

So there you have it, and not a weed in sight. :)  

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

In the Garden with Jane Austen: Privies and Ha-Ha Walls

At last, spring has hit Northern Ohio.  Well, actually, I think we skipped spring and went right into summer.  Believe it or not, today the temp here (90-ish) is going to be hotter than Miami, FL!

 Okay, those were some shots from my garden.  I love flowers!                                            

I'd like to share some things I learned from a beautiful book called In the Garden with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson.  This book is essentially a stroll through the kinds of gardens Jane would have known and visited--from cottage gardens, town gardens, public gardens and parks, to gardens of the great estates.  It is peppered wtih beautiful photographs, period drawings, biographical information, and exerpts from Jane's novels and letters.  Clearly, the author recognized Jane's love of gardens, and marries that to all sorts of wonderful details about the Regency period.  Here are just a few fascinating facts I learned.  Keep them in mind, Regency writers (or just enjoy them, everyone else):

--"Plucking a rose" meant visiting the privy.  (Can you imagine using this expression in your next Regency novel?)  Why?  Because the "conveniency" or "necessary house" was often located in the very back of the garden (as far away from the house as possible!), so you had to pass by all the flowers to get there.  (Might as well pick a few on your way, I reckon.)

--On a great estate, the main pleasure grounds of the house (decoratively planted areas, walks, shrubberies, lawns, gardens, conservatories, hothouses, and temples) were separated from the park (the grounds reserved for timber, deer, cattle and sheep) by a hidden wall called a ha-ha.  (Supposedly it was named for the expression of surprise one would utter when accidentally coming upon this drop-off as one was walking around).  This clever structure (often made of stone) preserved the view from the house but also created a barrier to keep the livestock off the beautiful main lawn.

I had read of ha-ha walls before, but the way they were described, could never picture them.  Wilson's book has a perfect picture of one that is instantly understandable.

 You can read more about ha-ha walls here and you can see one below.   This pic doesn't really do it justice--the top of the wall should be level with the grass--so the wall is essentially hidden from view.  If, for example, you are standing in front of a grand estate looking out over the lawn, you would not see the wall at all.

This is a rather gruesome cartoon (taken from the BBC link above), but it illustrates this hidden wall idea a lot better, IMO:

 These interesting but obscure facts don't by any means do this book justice--it's loaded with rich, beautiful pictures of gardens in various settings. 

Next post, I'm going to describe exactly what a shrubbery is--and why your heroine is likely to do something illusive, secretive, or even downright shocking in one!

Enjoy the weather!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Deep POV Tips from Author Jules Bennett

Harlequin Desire author Jules Bennett gave an awesome workshop about deep point of view (POV) for those of us who attended the Cleveland Rocks Romance Conference this past weekend.  Jules gave me permission to post her helpful pointers about writing deep POV and ramping up the emotional stakes in your own work:

  • Before you begin writing, imagine yourself in your scene.  Specifically ask yourself, what am I seeing?  What am I smelling?  Take a virtual look around and experience the scene through your senses.

  • Strive to put an emotional up-and-down in each scene.  Just as a scene has a beginning, middle, and an end, so it must also have emotional ups and downs.

  • Who’s head to write in?  We’ve all heard that we should write the scene from the POV of the character with the most to lose.  If you’re having trouble deciding that, jot down a paragraph or two in the heroine’s POV and another paragraph or two in the hero’s, then decide which is most effective.

  • To get deep into the minds of your characters, do a quick, five-minute journal entry pretending you are that character.  The question you are answering is:  how would you feel if this happened in your life?     Jules said don’t get carried away with it, do it quickly and briefly and get back to writing.

  • Setting often makes a big difference in how the characters act and feel.  It needs to come alive, as well as the characters.  Jules shared a tip that everyone loved—when she researches different places, she often calls realty agents in the area to ask details like, what are the popular attractions, how do people dress, what are the nightclubs like?   Having set a book in Miami, Jules was very honored when her editor, who had family living in Miami, said she wrote as if she had lived there herself (despite the fact that she had never been there).

  • You can use your own mood to help your writing.  Once she has her rough draft down, Jules hops around when revising depending on her mood.  So she tries to channel her current mood, good or bad, into her writing. 

  • Openings need to be packed with a punch, so work hard on them.  A tip from Leanne Banks:  before you start a new manuscript, really quickly, list 20 things you want to happen in your book.   This is a creative way to explore and focus on what you really want to write about.
  • When asked about her process, Jules says she begins with one scene in her head and then keeps asking what if? over and over.

Jules was a very dynamic speaker—comfortable in front of the crowd and also very friendly—and she looked just as sparkly as her website!  Her latest book Her Innocence, His Conquest, is a new Harlequin Desire release for April. Read more about Jules at

Monday, May 9, 2011

Living With a Difficult Muse

Still consumed with meeting my 1500 words-per-day quota for my Novel in Six Months Class with Lori Wilde at SavvyAuthors, I thought I would share more of my overwhelming frustrations as I continue to learn how to do this!

I wrote over 8,000 words last week, all in a state of pure terror.  Every morning, I wonder where six more pages of writing is going to come from.  Where does it come from?  Did you ever wonder?

My muse is ornery, difficult, and uncooperative.  Stubborn, too.  She makes my life hell!  What to do with her?  Is there any way to train a muse?

I wish I was the kind of writer who can follow a schedule.  For example, I say, I am going to sit here for four hours and at the end, I'm going to be done.  But no!  At the end of the time, yes, I do have something, but it sucks, and requires more hours of hairpulling and cursing and pacing all about the house to turn it into something resembling coherence.   This is very bad for anyone who has any other responsibilities other than writing.  It makes for a cranky, befrazzled person who feels like she can never get her work done.

I think there is a type of writer who is so gifted so as to be a natural plotter--who can envision the most unique twists and turns, who can create sensational high concept ideas.  A person like this has a highly creative mind and the vision to carry their ideas out.  There is also a writer who makes outlines and sticks to them.  Why couldn't I have a muse who works like that?  

I am not a natural plotter.  I am the wost panster-plotter ever!  I sit for hours trying to envision, write down, map, plot out, storyboard what on earth is going to happen next to my poor, tortured characters.  Even if I get some semblance of a shoddy outline down, alas, my muse changes drections on me, and it's back to the drawing board again.

I have no problem with sitting here for hours.  I've got that part down!  But now I have to learn the habits of somone who simply cannot afford to take time for tangents and detours and endless redoings.   I've got to learn to move.

Having a background in science,  I reflect often on the differences between a life that depends on creative ideas and one that works with "facts."  There are more similarities than one would at first imagine, and I'm not really saying the two are mutually exclusive, (and science does require creativity and who said science is made of "facts" anyway?) but all that makes for a different blog post.  The biggest difference I can see is that in a writer's life, your brain has to generate the raw material that makes for the rest of your day.  It's your imagination that creates what you work on all day.

Sometimes, I wonder if stories are just born to be told in a certain way.  Have you ever had this experience--you are rewriting or re-envisioning a scene.  Maybe you forgot that you've done it before.  Have you ever compared the new scene with the old one?  I find that at times the word choices are almost identical.  this always scares me in a creepy way.  Again I wonder, where exactly do these ideas come from?  

I'm hoping this all becomes easier.  That if I just keep at it, I will learn.  The great joys of writing are always balanced by difficulties, just like everything else on this planet.

In the meantime, anybody want to trade muses?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Learning to Write Fast

I am lucky to be in a course on SavvyAuthors run by Lori Wilde.  It is a Fast Track Novel Writing Class that goes for six months.  It's wonderful, and Lori is a great teacher.  That being said, the agony is that every day, five days a week, each of us has to turn in 1500 words of writing.  If you do the math, that's about six (ds) pages per day, 7500 words a week.  If you are short or miss a day, you've got to make it up by week's end.  We signed a pact.  Produce or else!

This is terrifying to me.  In order to do this, you've got to be able to do several things.  The first is, you have to have a plot for your book!  You've got to know where you are headed to be able to crank out 6 pages a day!  No fa-la-la-ing around, no I-think-I'll-start-in-a-different-place today, or I-think-I'll-take-a-day-for-research.   Biggest fear:  what if my brain is too little to wrap itself around such a big plot?  My plot seems bigger than my brain right now!

I read on Lauren Willig's website that she generally stays about 5 chapters ahead on her outline, and has a general outline to guide her, even though things may change as the characters behave outside the lines.  Five chapters ahead!  Egads, I'm a paragraph ahead!

You need to leave the perfectionism behind.   This is by far the most difficult thing for me.  The first few days last week, I had difficulty even turning the pages in, even though only my class can see them and surely no one cares.  But they're awful!  Did I actually let the hero say that?  It's ridiculous!  How to turn off that nasty internal editor long enough to turn my homework in?  (Must close eyes and hit send button before one can criticize onself.)

Lastly, you need the research to be done.  My book takes place in 1832 London, really after the Regency period.   I've never written beyond the Regency, and I've never done a romance with a lot of historical intrigue.   But how do I research when I can't even get my homework turned in?

I'm happy to say I did make my word count last week, despite being on the road for 3 days and having kids home all week.  I really hope I can do this, because what Lori is teaching us is how to write like a real author.  It's not enough to BICHOK all day--I've got that part down.  This is where you roll up your sleeves, research, create, produce, and crank. 

I know that completing this course will take my writing to a new level...if I survive it!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

My First Blog Interview Today at Wendy La Capra's Blog

Up-and-coming historical romance writer and friend Wendy La Capra interviewed me on her blog today--please stop by! Wendy La Capra's Romance Writing Blog

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Life of Painters...and Other Hazards

Don't you love learning things you never intended to find? 

I'm doing some research into medicine as it was practiced in the Regency period, and I had to chuckle when I came across this, which was written way earlier, around 1700:

"We read that Raphael of Urbino, the famous painter, was snatched from life in the very flower of his youth; Baldassarre Castiglione lamented his untimely death in an elegant poem.  Their sedentary life and melancholic temperment may be partly to blame, for they are almost entirely cut off from intercourse wtih other men and constantly absorbed in the creations of their imagination." 

No, he is not talking about writers!

Bernardino Ramazzini, an Italian physician (1633-1714) is discussing the diseases of painters in his famous treatise Diseases of Workers, in which he astutely categorized the hazards workers are exposed to in 52 professions. 

"Painters...are attacked by various ailments such as palsy of the limbs, cachexy, blackened teeth, unhealthy complexions, melancholia, and loss of the sense of smell." 

Ramazzini documented the hazards of mercury, lead, copper, and silver in paint pigments, as well as varnish and linseed oil.  "Moreover, painters when at work wear dirty clothes smeared with paint, so that their mouths and noses inevitably breathe tainted air; this penetrates to the seat of the animal spirits, enters by the breathing passages the abode of the blood, disturbs the econnomy of the natural functions, and excites the disorders mentioned above."

In the 1500's, a French physician named Fernel discribed violent stomach pains suffered by a painter that required 3 or 4 men to press their entire body weight on his abdomen to help them abate.  This particular painter unfortunately had the habit of squeezing the color from his brush with his fingers and then sucking it off.

These observations make me realize that people used their intelligence brilliantly during all ages; it is just that technology limits how close we can get to the truth.  The truth is different for different ages.

Okay, back to creating!  (And no sucking on your pens!)

See full size image

Friday, April 15, 2011


I recently learned that my manuscript My Wicked Duke is a finalist in the historical category of the Cleveland Rocks Romance Contest, and a query letter I submitted is a finalist in the New Hampshire RWA Query Quandary Contest.   

Yay for celebrating small successes! 

Elizabeth Inchbald: A Real-Life Regency Heroine

I am reading a book, Passion and Principle:  the Loves and Lives of Regency Women by Jane Aiken Hodge.  

Here is an amazing story I rustled up from this book:

Have you ever heard of Elizabeth Inchbald (1753-1821)?  She is a woman with an incredibly independent spirit for her age (well, for any age!) who was a novelist, playwright, and actress.

Elizabeth was a farmer's daughter who was never formally educated but read a lot.  Her passion was the theater, and she ran away at 17 to London to become an actress, leaving a note of apology for her mother.  A few days later, she sought refuge with her married sisters, and her mother forgave her for fleeing.  An actor, Joseph Inchbald, who had two illegitimate daughters, pursued her and offered marriage.  They were in an acting company together, and performed Shakespeare as well as plays by popular playwrights.

Her marriage was not perfect.  In her diaries she recorded that her husband was often jealous and made scenes after his drinking.  In her travels, she met the actor and stage manager John Phillip Kemble, worked in one of his plays, and clearly made her husband jealous by her friendship with him.  He was her lifelong friend and also apparently her unrequited love, but she denied that they were ever lovers.

Here are some images of Elizabeth, before I continue on with her story:                      


Elizabeth Inchbald

Suddenly widowed in 1779, Elizabeth decided to continue to act while she pursued writing.  She used her stage salary as security.  Although she had multiple offers of marriage, she refused them all, preferring her independence.  A novel she wrote was rejected, as were several plays,  but she had great success at last  with the play A Mogul's Tale in 1784.  "There is no woman I more truly admire, nor any man whose abilities I more highly esteem," wrote John Kemble, who did not offer marraige as Elizabeth must have hoped.  The author William Godwin, husband of Mary Wollstonecraft, was, however, one of the men who did propose marriage, but she declined. 

In all, Elizabeth wrote over 20 plays.  The work she is most well known for is a novel called A Simple Life.  Reportedly, she patterned the hero after Kemble.  He is handsome, romantic, but unheroic--it is not a flattering portrait. 

The theme of A Simple Life is that a proper education is essential for women to make the right choices in life.

Elizabeth continued to live independently on her earnings until her death. 

Spunky, intelligent, and that's a real-life Regency heroine for you!


Passion and Principle:  the Loves and Lives of Regency Women by Jane Aiken Hodge.   John Murray Publishers, London, 1996.

Elizabeth Inchbald, article by Elma Scott, Chawton House Library, viewed at:

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Surprise Factor in Fiction

Had a big family event this weekend at my house that required a lot of preparation, so yesterday I gave myself permission to vege out, enjoy the 80+ degee weather (yes, even in Cleveland, it appears spring has arrived (and I say that with a great deal of caution)!), and dig into Brava, Valentine, Adriana Trigiani's continuation of Valentine Roncalli's trials and tribulations.

I mentioned before how much Trigiani's language gets to me--it's sensory and bold.  But even moreso, it surprises.  I really believe that this is one of the marks of experienced authors--they know how to make you sit up and say wow!  how did she ever think of that?  

In these two books, I see the surprise factor on two levels--one is in the descriptions of things--the metaphors are so fresh and startling.  (No cliches here, no siree!)   But also in the plot.  It reminds me of the Donald Maass workbook, when he asks questions like, what could these characters possibly do to create MORE conflict, MORE tension?  And as a reader, I think, OMG, she actually did that?!  I can't believe it!  It makes it impossible to stop reading.

Of course, this is women's fiction.  In a romance novel, the female would share her lead role with a man, and there would be much less introspection and description.  But the external (plot-driven) journey and emotional jouney of the woman and her subsequent empowerment as a result of that journey are front and center in both genres.

And I really believe that the surprises are key in any good book. 

At this point in my career, I judge a book by how much it can pull me out of "analysis" mode and into the story where I forget that I am a writer--I forget who I am and where I am--I dissolve into the story. 

That is why I love to read.  And write.

Okay, back to work.  I hope my house can stay clean for just one more day--it's already starting to go around the edges...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Lush Language of Adriana Trigiani

I have been discovering new authors (well, actually, famous authors who are new to me)--ones who are going to be a part of the Jane Austen anthology coming out this fall by Ballantine books. 

I had the great pleasure of reading Very Valentine, Adriana Trigiani's 2009 book about a woman's quest for self discovery in her big Italian family as she joins her grandmother in carrying on the family's wedding shoe business.

What a beautiful book!  Full of famiglia, its ups and downs, and figuring out what it is you really want out of life.  I loved it!

Today I'd like to show you some passages from this book that show the sensory aspects of Trigiani's language.  Man alive, her prose purrs!

To be able to write like this--using all of the senses and using contrasts that continually surprise and jarr in the most delightful ways...

 Well, don't believe me.  Take a look for yourselves:

Roman takes my face in his hands.  As our lips meet for the first time, his kiss is gentle and sensual, and very direct, like the man himself.  I might as well be on the Piazza Medici on the isle of Venice, as his touch takes me far from where I stand and off to someplace wonderful, a place I haven't been in a very long time.  As Roman slides his arms around me, the silk of my dress makes a rustling sound, like the dip of an oar into the canal in the mural behind him.  (Page 85)

As Gianluca slows down, I see a lake throught he trees.  It shimmers like pale blue silk taffeta.  The edges of the water are blurred by wild fronds of deep green stalks that bend and twist over the shoreline.  I commit the color scheme to memory.  How lucious it would be to create an icy blue shoe with a deep green feather trim.  I roll down the windows to get a closer look.  The sun hits the water like a slew of silver arrows.  (Page 216)

As we say goodnight, I lean back on the pillows and dream of Roman Falconi.  I imagine him, the blue sea, the pink clouds, and the hot sun over Capri.  As I sink into a deep and satisfying sleep, I imagine my lovers's arms around me in warm sand.  ((Page 228)

I survey the long line of passengers.  Not one look of understanding or sympathy comes my way.  I cry some more.  My face begins to itch with the tears.  I wipe my face with my sleeve.  I remember my father's words to me.  Nothing ever seems to go right for you.  You have to work for everything.  Well, now I have a new revelation--not only do I have to work for everything, but the work may go totally unrewarded.  What is the point?  (Page 232)

Fuchsia flowers cascade over the rocks, bursts of purple bougainvillea spill off the cliffs, while the emerald waves along the water's edge reveal glossy red coral, like the chips of red candle wax on a wine bottle.  (Page 233)

I just haven't had enough of Valentine Roncalli and her world.  Already bought the sequel, Brava. Valentine. 

Heard her YA books are fab too--the first was Viola in the Reel Life (about a young teen videographer) and the second, Viola in the Spotlight, just came out this week. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Help for Writing in the First Person...from Wendy LaCapra

I've recently been called upon to read a friend's partial manuscript--all written in the first person.

I recently wrote a short story in the first person, which I had never seriously done before.

And I realized there are pitfalls.

The hardest one for me was the "telling" pitfall.  How on earth do you avoid telling if you are writing "I"?  I mean, isn't using "I," by its very nature, telling?

Well, there are ways, and aspiring author Wendy LaCapra taught them to me.  Following are a few examples from my story and how Wendy helped me make them a LOT bolder, better, and more-showy-and-less-tell-y:


Telling:  "It was no wonder I acted as if I had received Willy Wonka's Golden Ticket."

Wendy's Way:  "I clutched it (the ticket) to my chest like it was Willy Wonka's Golden Ticket."

Do you see what she's done here?  She's made it visual.  Using the strong verb "clutched" makes you visualize clutching a precious object to your chest.  You can see it.  And therefore you can feel it.


Telling:  I had grown up, and left my hurtful penchant for bad boys in the past.

Wendy's Way:  The day he slipped an engagemnet ring on my finger, I knew I had grown up and left my hurtful penchant for bad boys in the past.

Why it works:  A vivid, concrete image your brain can sink its teeth into.


More (yawn) telling:  She had stopped by my tiny shoebox of an office to make dinner plans.

Wendy's Way:  She tried to lean across my cluttered desk without causing the stacks of books and papers to fall.

Same thing, the telling is changed to SENSORY images.  You can do this using any sense.  Use all five!


Telling:  Well, my thesis had been Jane Austen:  The Woman's Woman.  But had anyone outside of my small liberal arts English department even read it?

Wendy's Way:   "You do recall my thesis was Jane Austen:  The Woman's Woman."  But had anyone outside of my small liberal arts English department even read it?

See the conversion of telling to dialogue?

BOTTOM LINE:  Enhance your first-person writing by changing dull telling by injecting emotional and sensory images.  And use dialogue instead of telling, too.

Thank you, Wendy!  I think you're brilliant!  :)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Do You Slump When You Work, or Proper Posture at Your Computer

Do you spend hours every day sitting down at the screen typing away?  Ask yourself these questions to see if you're stressing your body by not doing it properly!

  • Do your ears line up with your shoulders and hips (like they should if you are sitting up straight)?
  • Is the top of your screen at forehead level?  (hard to do if you're on a laptop!)
  • Are your mouse and keyboard directly in front of you at elbow height?  (The answer is 'no' if you're sitting at a desk or table with your laptop.)  (Your elbows should be bent at 90 degrees.) 
  • Is your upper arm hanging straight down?
  • Is your lower back supported by the backrest of your chair? 
  • Feet flat on floor, thighs parallel to floor?
  • Don''t forget to walk around and "circulate" regularly, as well as get regular exercise.

And here's a picture of proper hand posture:


My office has a semi-ergonomic setup, and I'm working on making it better.  I just bought a large monitor that I can connect up to my laptop that is at eye level.  Trouble is, I often get sick of working there and tend to take my laptop to work in a sunny room, especially when the weather is nice.  So I often catch myself slumped over my laptop, squinting at the screen.

Here's to proper posture to increase our endurance while we work!  Now, if someone could only come up with a few more hours in each day...


PT handout:  A Self-Guided Ergonomic Assessment for the Seated Compouter Operator E.K. Benner,, M.A., P.T., O.C.S.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Life is Like a Box of Chocolates...

" never know what you're gonna get."  Forrest Gump was right.  And it looks like this year, I didn't get a Golden Heart final, nor did some of my very talented friends. 

But for those who did, Congratulations!   You were recognized for your talent and determination, and you earned it!

The GH lists are not quite complete, but I did recognize many of the names on the list.  Which makes me excited, because we are part of a community.  And seeing others succeed who have worked so hard is proof that hard work does bring results.

So today, since I just dipped into my emergency hidden stash of Ghirardelli Luxe Milk Almond Squares, I thought I'd post some facts about chocolate to put all of us non-winners into a better mood.

Chocolate is a natural antidepressant because it produces serotonin in your body.  And a natural aphrodisiac because of the procuction of phenylethylamine, the chemical we produce when we're in love.

So next time you're writing that love scene, break out the chocolate!

Scientifically speaking, chocolate is NOT addictive (but not to my body).

1.4 ounces of dark chocolate  lowers cortisol and catecholamines, reducing anxiety, thus helping you get that job done and deal with stresses, like not winning the GH.

Dark chocolate has more antioxidants than light, but 71% of Americans prefer light.

The ancient Aztecs drank it, as did the folks in Regency England, often in coffee houses, the precursors to our Starbucks.  It was served in tall cups with milk added.

Cocoa powder was produced in the 18th century, and made by a machine for the first time in 1828.  At home, people carefully cooked chocolate or cocoa wtih milk and flavorings in a chocolate pot (that resembled a samovar with legs).  In the coffee house, it would be whipped to a froth (just like a Starbucks cappuchino, coming right up!)

So, Gals, drink it or eat it, but then we're going to do our BICHOK (butt in chair, hands on keyboard) and write those stories.

Because we're writers, and GH or not, that's what we do.   


20-20 Site 

The Jane Austen Centre Magazine 

Monday, March 21, 2011

It's Golden Heart Week

It's the week we've all been waiting for!  Doesn't last November, when we cautiously and optimistically FedEx'd our bulging packages full of manuscript copies and binder clips goodbye on the crisp autumn breeze, seem SO long ago?

On Friday, the calls go out from RWA to the winners of the Golden Heart Contest for unpublished writers.  I'm very excited because this year, I know so many more people who are "going for the gold" thanks to Cyndi D'Alba setting up a loop for a bunch of us who entered.  Plus, I have friends who are anxiously (or not so anxiously) holding their breath.

I'll be following the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood all week.  They are posting GH-related topics all week.  Today's was "T-minus Four and Counting to Golden Heart Day." 

It was a great hoot to follow their blog last year where they celebrated with everyone's announcements as they happened, and the winners often stopped in to say hi and give their reactions.

To the friends I know who entered, GOOD LUCK!!!   

See you all on Friday--I am going to stock up on my secret chocolate stash for fortitude!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Brain Fatigue and Maturing Your Manuscript

I really hate brain fatigue.  The kind that prevents you from seeing mistakes.  When you work on a manuscript day in and day out, you are bound to get it.  Here are the top three annoying mistakes I often make and then catch only after I've had a rest from a manuscript:

--I use the same words, especially verbs and adjectives, over and over, within a short space of one another.   Don't know why, just happens.  Seems like it happens more with the more unusual words--like my brain thinks they are clever and wants to keep using them.

--I lose my ear for good dialogue.  Even if I think it's good at the time, it doesn't sound so good later.

--I sacrifice emotional depth to plot.  I think it's all I can do to get the plot down the first couple of go-rounds.   Have to really think and make connections and layer in emotional conflict as time goes on.

These are all reasons why writing is not a solitary profession after all.  I used to think it was.  But connections are made and ideas are grown when work is shared...not to mention, mistakes are fixed!

I entered my newest manuscript into the Golden Heart last fall, but it has "ripened" and changed a lot since then.  Seems like my writing needs this time to be re-thought out and given depth through draft after draft.

I wonder, with experience, do you make less of these errors?  Do you "get it" quicker?

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Ethics of Coordinating a Contest

A little while ago I did a post on the difficulties of judging the GH.  Today I have some comments on being a category coordinator for my local RWA chapter contest.  Judging the GH was a piece of cake compared to this job!

I have a new appreciation for the ethical dilemmas of contest coordinators.  For new judges--making sure they are mentored in their judging, and don't submit scores that are too low or too high.  That is a very gray area.  If a person has never judged before, and gives an entrant a very low score, say a 30, would you bring it to their attention?  Okay, I hear all the "yeses" out there.  But what if they give someone a 50?  Some judges, such as myself, believe that a score of 50 should be reserved for entrants whose entries aren't submitted in English.  But others feel that a "50" is a justifiable score.  So do you call the judge out on that or not?

If an entrant "deserves" a 50,  I still would not give them a 50.  Why?  Because I believe a 50 is a crushing score.  A brand new writer, maybe entering a contest for the first time, may not know the basics of a romance entry in a contest.  They may not understand about internal conflict and external conflict.  Their plot may be weak or nonexistent.    Their dialogue may be stilted and their writing may be full of cliches.  Their characters may behave erratically and you may despise their hero or heroine.  This person is never going to win the contest, so why crush them?  In my opinion, giving them a score in the 60s or 70s serves the same point--it tells them their writing needs more work, but in a far less vicious way.

People enter contests for one reason--for feedback.  And our job when we volunteer to judge is to deliver that feedback in the most mentoring way possible.

I just cannot understand the mentality of judges who may deliver spot-on criticism but dish it out in the cruelest way possible.  Statements like I hate your  hero, your heroine is too stupid to live, your characters are not interesting, you don't have a plot, etc. are tactless and hurtful.  The tone and the delivery of such comments demonstrates a lack of skill set on the part of the judge.

If judges would imagine they are sitting across from someone telling them these comments, would they phrase them in quite the same way?
When you are up close and personal with someone who looks vulnerable, the answer is NO.
So why be that way on paper?

Do judges like this assume the worst about people--that they are lazy and didn't do their homework and so deserve to be treated as harshly as possible?  Sort of a "tough love" philosophy?  I imagine in my mind that these are the same people who would say that anyone living in poverty should just stop whining and get a job.  Maybe they feel publishing is a difficult business and people may as well hear how badly they suck right up front?

Can we not assume that contest entrants are simply at different skill levels, with different access to knowledge and mentoring?  They are looking for feedback, are likely not confident about their writing, just looking for some help.  Why crush someone's dream?

When I did peer tutoring at the university writing center in grad school, we were taught to always point out what the student did well first.  Play to their strengths, and then they are more willing and able to accept their weaknesses.   (My experience is that this works with kids, too.)  Statements like, "portions of _____(your plot, your dialogue, the actions of your hero, whatever) confused me because..." or "I really think you could amp up the conflict by..." or I think your ____ is good, but I would make the following suggestion..."  are so much more tactful and kind.  They still get the message across, too.  And the person doesn't go home crying!

Judges volunteer their time and spend a lot of time on their entries.  And a contest coordinator has a responsiblitiy to be fair to the entrants while not manipulating anyone into changing their scores.  But if a judge tends to be very direct and critical, I would at least like to see a general statement about the entry given up front that mentions its strengths before the judge plunges into a page of criticism.

Because there is always something good to be said.

Monday, March 7, 2011

What Leslie Dow Learned from Lori Wilde--a post from Savvy Authors

Aspiring autrhor Leslie Dow did a post on Savvy Authors today about being savvy in the business of writing called "What I Learned from Lori Wilde." Lori offers a write-a-novel-in-six-months class through Savvy U.that Leslie took and enjoyed a lot.

You can read Leslie's full post at Savvy Authors here.

Pearls from this post follow.  Lori says, "Your writing is neither as bad as you fear nor as good as you hope."  The truth is likely somewhere in between and can be controlled by hard work and perserverance in honing your craft.  Writing is a businesss in which an author produces a product for the marketplace.  You can produce the finest writing in the world, but if there's no market, you have no sale.   Study and apply techniques from authors who are at the top of their genre.  And network, even if you are the world's greatest introvert.  It takes people besides ourselves sitting day in and out at your keyboard to succeed in this business!

Great tips to remind us that we can't write in a vaccuum.

Friday, March 4, 2011

SEP's Character Description--Why I Think It Works

The reason I think this description (see post from earlier today) is so fantastic is that SEP describes our hero not by looks alone but by his looks as they relate to his personality.
--The heroine assumes there is something about him that proclaims he was not born into blue blood--but had a rough past.
--His hair color is the color of brown between a glass of Bud and a leather portfolio--he's surrounded by leather in his office, the glass of Bud she can picture him enjoying
--The other comments pertain to the obvious level of success he's attained, the hard work he does and his passion for it.

A description like this would never be possible on a first draft (at least for me).  You really have to know your character spot on to do such a concise description like this!