First Words…

Hi, I’m Nina Croft and for my first post on Through Heart-Shaped Glasses, I thought I would say a little about how I first started writing and my first book.

I didn’t write when I was younger; probably because I was too busy reading. Then, at the age of twenty-seven, I found myself living in a remote village on the banks of Lake Kariba in Zambia. And almost totally bookless.Lake Kariba at sunset

For the previous few years, I’d been working in London as an accountant. I was bored and restless (I wanted life to be more like the books I read!) and in desperate need of some sun and some excitement. So together with my brand new husband, I signed on with a charitable organization sending volunteers all over the world.

img016Lake Kariba is a man-made lake formed when the Zambezi River was dammed in the 1950s. We were working for a charity helping the people displaced when the dam was built and their homes flooded. They were subsistence farmers and fishermen, living in villages dotted along the edge of the lake, and much of my time was spent whizzing around in boats (dodging hippos and crocodiles!)

It was a stunningly beautiful place, but very remote, with no electricity, no TV, no internet and very limited access to books (and this was way before kindles!). For someone used to reading a book a day, it wasn’t long before I was suffering severe withdrawal symptoms.

Even food was a logistical nightmare. A boat ride away was a small supermarket. Unfortunately, it rarely stocked food; on a good day you could buy toilet rolls and toothpaste. We could order beef locally, but it tended to arrive still warm and with the hoof still attached—a little off-putting. Then there was the local dried fish—kapenta—the most disgustingly smelly stuff to ever come out of the water…

Obviously, I needed something to take my mind off the lack of food and books. What I did have was an extremely large laptop provided by the charity (and powered by a solar panel) and it occurred to me that my only solution was to write my own stories. And that started my first venture into writing and resulted in my first partial submission to Harlequin (several years later) called, The Best of Intentions. Sadly (but not surprisingly) it was rejected but with a very positive letter and a compliment slip for if I wanted to try again.

That was my first attempt at writing, but definitely not my last. So are there any major changes in your life that have made you take up something for the very first time?

About Nina Croft

Nina Croft grew up in the north of England. After training as an accountant, she spent four years working as a volunteer in Zambia which left her with a love of the sun and a dislike of 9-5 work. She then spent a number of years mixing travel (whenever possible) with work (whenever necessary) but has now settled down to a life of writing and picking almonds on a remote farm in the mountains of southern Spain. Nina writes all types of romance often mixed with elements of the paranormal and science fiction.

First Rejection

No, no, no…I’m not talking about my first crush in elementary school that crossed his eyes and ran the other direction when I professed my true love. Although I have to say that it could’ve been worse if I hadn’t watched, with my tender heart in pieces, as he slid to a stop and ran into the monkey bars. My best friend’s giggles quickly helped to start the healing process as the teacher picked gravel out of his elbows. My true love today, besides family and friends, would be my stories. Every hurt, joy, stress I feel is woven into my writing. It can get pretty emotional and I sometimes feel the torture I put my characters through. My contemporary stories focus on real life drama and intense relationships in small town America. Rugged cowboys, oh my, and the strong women that fight back when life tries to buck and bully them. And with as much emotion as I put into my stories, can you imagine the anxiety I felt when I first submitted my work to a critique group, and then the pain when the first response was a woman blasting me with tons of red ink? I actually considered quitting as I’m sure many others have done after rejection knocked them for a loop. But I have been truly blessed with my current critique partners, and even a few from the past. They steer me in the right direction with constructive criticism and have taught me so much along the way. They cheer me on and supply chocolate and hugs when I get shot down.

The reason rejections are felt more strongly than normal is because writing is  personal. My stories are something I put my heart into and when they’re rejected, I tend to take it personally. It’s hard not to. I’ve been writing for publication for almost seven years now and received my first rejection letter within three months of submitting. That is a quick response considering I know several writers that have been waiting a year, or two, for an editor to respond. They say that no news is good news. Really? Hand me a silver bucket I can throw up in from the overwhelming anxiety every time the phone rings or bings with notification that I have an email.

I have to admit though, my first editor rejection was a good one as far as rejections go. It was a revise and resubmit. The story was ultimately rejected but the process wasn’t as heartbreaking as I’ve been through since. I think the worst I’ve received was a form letter that they just plugged my name into the greeting. A critique partner received one with her name but the wrong manuscript title. The hard part about those types of rejections is not knowing if you even had a chance. Is there something you need to change or did you just get the wrong editor/agent on the wrong day? When you are receiving multiple rejections, examine the rejection letters (or critiques) and see if you can find common suggestions, mistakes. Do you feel as though you can make the changes without losing your voice?

There are plenty of authors with success stories out there with bestselling books on the market that are proud of the hundreds of rejection letters before they found the one editor, or agent, that led them to success. My first rejection was hard to swallow though I’m sure it could’ve been much worse. I find encouragement when I’m down by reading about how other authors have struggled but they kept plugging away and persevered. My post today sounds like it’s geared more toward the writer, but anyone can apply this post to something they really want to accomplish. Make positive changes if needed, but don’t give up if you really want something. Success is always the best revenge.

Have a wonderful Mother’s Day weekend!

Chelle Sandell

About Chelle Sandell

Contemporary western romance author, Chelle Sandell, was born and raised in southern Oklahoma but has mostly traded her cowboy boots in for flip-flops. That is unless her cowboy feels the occasional need to go boot scootin' across a dance floor. A foodie at heart, leaning toward the sweet treats, you can find her in the kitchen experimenting on her family and friends. She lives out in the country with her very own cowboy, rowdy boys, Hank & Lilly (blue heeler cowdogs), rescue kitties, and a hungry opossum that loves to sneak up at night to eat the cat food on the back porch. An avid reader from way back when, Chelle first found her writing voice when her favorite aunt showed her a historical romance book that mentioned a Native American ancestor that she had been researching. She realized she could weave her own stories that could have the same impact on readers that she felt when reading. Most of her stories are contemporary western romances, but she also has a Western/Native American historical and paranormal romance waiting in line for attention. While Chelle hasn't published yet, she has met some success as a finalist in the Magnolia State Dixie First Chapter Contest, OKRWA's Finally A Bride, and two eHarlequin Editor Pitch contests.

First Things First

Hi, all, Jennifer here!

I have to admit that in my personal life I’m very sensitive to order and having everything around me just so. No, I don’t have OCD. But I have joked on many occasions that I could quite possibly be borderline. Luckily, my family has learned to deal with it.

So it stands to reason, that in my writing life I like order, too. Our theme this month at the Heart-Shaped-Glasses blog is FIRSTS, so I thought I’d share what I like to do first when starting a new book.

When an idea first comes to me, it’s really vague. For example, in my recent novella, A LITTLE BIT CUPID, I knew I wanted to write about a woman who had never been in love and I also knew I wanted Cupid to help her find Mr. Right but have her want someone entirely different.

See? We’re talking really vague.

Before I can go any further with plotting, the first thing I need are NAMES.

Believe it or not, I can write without a working title, but I NEED NAMES for my characters or they just won’t feel real to me. Without a name, it would be like writing about a cardboard cutout figure. And I just can’t get into that.

So where do I start looking?

Actually, I have a nifty little Baby Name book called Beyond Jennifer and Jason, Madison and Montana: What to name your baby now. It’s an awesome book and I highly recommend it (even if you’re done having children of your own). It categorizes names for you, which makes it ever so convenient, especially if you’re looking for a masculine or feminine type name or maybe a good-girl name, or a no nonsense name, etc…

Once my characters are named, I’m good to go and I can then create my character profiles and then a brief story outline. See? Very orderly. But that’s me. I’m a first things first kind of girl. 🙂

How about you? What’s the FIRST thing you like to do when beginning a new story?

About Jennifer Shirk

Jennifer Shirk is a USA Today bestselling sweet romance author for Montlake and Entangled Publishing who also happens to be a mom, pharmacist, Red Sox fan, P90x grad, and overall nice person. Check out her latest sweet romance: WRONG BROTHER, RIGHT MATCH.

Storytelling to Take Your Breath Away

storytellingAs I’m sure you know by now, this month our theme is “firsts”. I wanted to write about the first romance novel that made me say, “I want to do that!”

Naturally, there have been many novels since. Many, many. I often think about a book I loved after I read it to examine what about it touched me. Because those are the things I want to do.

That first book, though. It wasn’t a thoughtful examination. I didn’t know a thing about craft. I knew when I couldn’t put a book down. This particular book–Faking It by Jennifer Crusie–not only touched me, it also made me excited about storytelling.

There are spoilers from here on out, so fair warning.

Throughout the book, Matilda has difficulty achieving a climactic moment when she and Davy get intimate. (Don’t you love the classy way I phrased that? Don’t get used to it.) But, also throughout the book, Matilda is struggling very much to not be herself. She’s not comfortable in her own skin, she’s not comfortable with what her father convinced her to do (that was illegal, fraudulent, and,to her, immoral). And because she did this thing, she has to hide the thing she is most passionate about: her painting.

So, in the end, when Davy (who is a former con artist) sees the real Matilda (who did a bad thing) he likes it. And Matilda likes being Matilda. And bad. And not hiding what she is most passionate about.

When this happens, Matilda is able to become quite passionate. And finish up in an explosively hot way. (I told you not to get used to it.)

When I read that, after I finished fanning myself, I could see what Jennifer Crusie had done. She’d given us a physical, concrete way to see how deeply Matilda’s feelings were affecting her. And when Matilda resolved those issues? Wow, did we know.

Have any stories touched you in a memorable way?

EDIT: My mistake is your gain! I published this post with the wrong title and character names (but right plot, lol). To apologize for my error, I’m giving away a copy of Faking It on Kindle. I’ll chose from comments up until midnight tonight and post the winner in the comments tomorrow.

About Lori Sizemore

Lover of nail polish, pens, her Kindle, and fresh coffee. She likes romance filled with messy, real characters and lots of snarky banter. Reading was (and still is!) her BFF; when she discovered writing she fell in love. Come for the snark. Stay for the story.

Unforgettable First Dates

Bandaid

Conflict is one of the things that makes a novel worth reading. So first dates in romance novels usually end up being messy and complicated. The encounters are typically full of trouble, while somehow affirming that the couple is meant to be together despite all obstacles. In Canyon Walls, my characters’ first date involves star gazing–surrounded by a camp full of teenagers.

On one of my own first dates, my date was driving me to dinner when I reached under the seat of his truck and instead of moving the seat back, I sliced my finger open on a piece of metal. It was one of those crazy wounds that wouldn’t stop bleeding.

I was mortified.

My date drove down the interstate as I searched for a fast-food napkin or anything I could put on my finger to stop the bleeding. Before I knew what was happening, my good-looking date had pulled up his dress shirt, held out the bottom of his white undershirt, and stuck my bleeding finger in it. It was incredibly sweet, but it wasn’t the first impression I’d hoped to make.

He exited the highway, changed out of his undershirt and into his dress shirt, and left me in the truck as he went into a store. He bought me a box of bandages and antibacterial cream. The gesture was far more romantic than flowers.

I still have a scar–right beside the finger where I wear the wedding ring he gave me. It’s a daily reminder of our wonderful and never-boring romance.

The secret of a great first date isn’t about the right restaurant or the most romantic location; it’s about sharing it with the right person.

What was your most memorable first date?

About Julie Jarnagin

Julie Jarnagin is a multi-published author of inspirational romance. She grew up in a small Oklahoma town where her family farmed and ranched. These days she lives in a not-so-big city with her amazing husband and young son who tolerate all her nerdy quirks. Julie earned a B.A. in Journalism / Professional Writing from the University of Oklahoma and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. www.JulieJarnagin.com

Welcome to Through Heart-Shaped Glasses!

717394_30828375We’re tossing the confetti and passing out cupcakes. Why? Because we’re excited about our new blogging home! (It’s pretty, isn’t it? Yea, we love it too!)

Along the top you’ll find the personal pages for all 11 of us, you’ll see our pictures in our heart-shaped glasses on the side (can you tell we had fun with our glasses?) and if you scroll down the sidebar you’ll see when we blog, the dates we’re open to guest bloggers, and our monthly themes.

For our first month, we’ve chosen the appropriate theme of “firsts.” We hope you’ll stop by often during the month and let us entertain you. We can guarantee that with 11 lovely ladies on the blogroll the opinions and thoughts on writing and reality are bound to be varied, entertaining, sometimes funny, sometimes serious, but always from our hearts.

And because we love to give prizes…each month you’ll find a new member sponsoring the Blog Swag of the Month…this month’s swag is a $10 amazon e-card sponsored by me! And all you have to do is comment during the month to be entered to win! We also might have prizes during the month when guest bloggers stop by to don their own pair of heart-shaped glasses and join the blog for a day.

Don’t forget to grab a cupcake before you go…and we’ll see you back here on the 3rd when we officially kick off our first “Firsts” post of the month.

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About Debora Dennis

A believer in second chances and that time should never be an obstacle to finding love, Debora writes time travels with modern snark and spice! When she's not writing, she's spending time with her family, reading, or trying to figure out a way to get chocolate into every dish she serves.

  • Our LATEST Buzz!

    Cyn D. Blackburn's Wrapped Up in You releases on November 13. *** The first two books in the Cupid's Cafe series were released in June by Lori Sizemore and Landra Graf *** Lori Sizemore's Infamous was released on December 14. *** Julie Jarnagin's Cowgirl in the Kitchen is available now. *** Bethanne Strasser LETTERS FROM HOME from Entangled Publishing is available now! *** Nina Croft's latest books, Her Fantasy Husband, a hot contemporary romance from Entangled's Brazen line, and The Order Boxed Set, a compilation of the three full length novels, plus a new novella, exclusive to the boxed set, both released in April 2016 *** Debora Dennis's holiday novella, CUPCAKES & CUPID is available.