Kecia’s Blog Analytics and A Manifesto

On 1 January of this brand spankin’ New Year of 2014, I posted WordPress’s clever analysis of my 2013 Blog Year in Review. Interestingly by comparison with 2012’s review, I lost momentum in 2013 on Kecia’s Blog: All I Want Is…Everything. I wrote/posted 28% fewer posts than in 2012 and garnered about 50% fewer views. My most popular post (Slainte: Toasting Jane Austen) was the same for 2013 as it was for 2012, possibly because of the search terms used to find it, which had to do withMcavoywelcometothepunch James McAvoy (what happened to him, anyway? Click on pic for 2013’s Welcome to the Punch) and Jane Austen movies. I have been fascinated by the IDEA of analytics since it was introduced to me as part of this WordPress blog and in development of my author website too. I say the IDEA of analytics because, really, who has time to actually DO analytics? The Wikipedia definition:

“Analytics is the discovery and communication of meaningful patterns in data. Especially valuable in areas rich with recorded information, analytics relies on the simultaneous application of statistics, computer programming and operations research to quantify performance. Analytics often favors data visualization to communicate insight.”

By data visualization, we are talking infographics. Visual display of data. You know, graphs and stuff. Here’s a great infographic on infographics from the professional digital marketers at Customer Magnetism:

What is an Infographic?
Created by Customer Magnetism, an award winning Digital Marketing Agency.

Obviously the clever folks at Customer Magnetism do analytics for business websites to create sophisticated marketing plans. Cool, right? But how does that effect this blog?

So now we come to the Manifesto. Or maybe it should be called a Mission Statement, which of course puts me in mind of the Jerry Maguire scene where he (or writer/director Cameron Crowe) pours his heart into The Things We Think And Do Not Say at the very beginning of the movie.

All this to say: why am I writing this blog? It has come down to really only two things. And thanks to a post from Dan Blank on how to Create Experiences For Your Readers for helping me hone in on these two reasons why I write anything, really.

First, for the writing itself. There is something about publishing one’s writing to the world that forces an excellence (or at least an attention to detail and topic) that all the navel gazing journaling in the world does not do for me. No matter how pretty the journal or smooth the gel ink pen, I find my writing to be best when I “put it out there.”

Second, for the connection. Why else would Jerry Maguire put it all on the line in his Mission Statement and then make 100 copies at Kinko’s to put in each inbox? He wanted to connect. And that’s it for me too.

As Jerry’s mentor, the original sports agent Dicky Fox put it:

“The key to this business is personal relationships.”

So it doesn’t really matter that my posts decreased and so did my views in 2013. If I managed to connect with one reader, I have made my own day! And I hope I have made that reader’s day too.

How about you, my readers, do you DO analytics? How about infographics? I would love to hear if you have a personal mission statement. Happy 2014!

Writing Alone and With Friends

Depositphotos_2499247_mSo, I did it again. I did not blog during the summer and because this now seems to be a trend (does two summers constitute a trend? See last year’s hiatus post.) I may actually SCHEDULE the time off next year! At any rate, I am back on the blog and will be presenting all the Friday Film, Link Love, and personal anecdotes (by far the most popular according to my reader survey) I can schedule. My intent is to get some more guest posters on here too.

I did get to thinking that writing is a very solitary occupation. I often sit for hours at my computer tapping away and I can go for days without any real interaction with humans other than the ones in my head and my family (and maybe the barista at Starbucks). To combat this tendency toward isolation, I have reached out to many different writing communities over the years (!) of my writing life, mostly online, and I have found acceptance, inspiration, and (wouldn’t you know it) friends. So I thought I would share those communities and what they have brought to my writing. Perhaps they will inspire you too!

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Romance Writers of America (RWA)    

I think of RWA as the grandmother of them all. I have belonged to this association since 2005, and I have been to four of their national conferences and one regional conference. Early on I joined an online community in RWA and found encouragement, critique, and a group of like-minded writers. The changes in publishing have caused changes in the organization, but at its heart I believe RWA has the writer’s best interests firmly in place. When I went to that first national conference in Dallas, I had the thought over and over: “Wow, these are my PEEPS.” 🙂 Here is a snippet from their website on their misson:

Romance Writers of America® (RWA) is a nonprofit trade association whose mission is to advance the professional interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy. RWA works to support the efforts of its members to earn a living, to make a full-time career out of writing romance—or a part-time one that generously supplements his/her main income.

And some interesting statistics about the ROMANCE genre:

  • Women make up 91 percent of romance book buyers, and men make up 9 percent.
  • The U.S. romance book buyer is most likely to be aged between 30 and 54 years.
  • Romance book buyers are highly represented in the South.
  • The greatest percentage of romance book buyers (39 percent) have an income between $50,000 and $99,900.
  • According to RWA’s 2011 Romance Book Consumer survey, slightly more than half of survey respondents live with a spouse or significant other.
  • Forty-four percent of romance book buyers consider themselves “frequent readers” (read quite a few romances); 31 percent are “avid readers” (almost always reading a romance novel); and 25 percent are “occasional readers” (on and off, like when on vacation).
  • Readers have been reading romance for a long time: 41 percent of romance book buyers have been reading romance for 20 years or more.

bksp.4Backspace 

This organization has been around since 2005 and welcomes more than just one genre. I am fairly new to Backspace (joined in 2012) but I attended their national conference in May this year and found it tremendously helpful for its emphasis on professional feedback instead of “pitching” and also for its multi-genre perspective. Online, the value of Backspace is in the Forum. There is such a wealth of information there, you can get lost for days if you are so inclined.

Backspace is predicated on the idea of writers helping writers, which we accomplish by means of discussion forums, an online guest speaker program in which agents, acquisitions editors, and bestselling authors regularly conduct question and answer sessions with the group, advice and how-to articles from publishing experts on this website, as well as our real-world conferences and events.

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Women’s Fiction Writers Association     

A new (brand, spankin’ new! We launched just last week!) organization for which I (moi, yours truly) is the Workshops Coordinator. I will, in fact, be teaching a workshop next week (Writing the Middle). Here’s the guiding principle of this start up association:

Defining Women’s Fiction has proven as subjective as the types of books we prefer. For that reason, our guiding statement is broad and comprehensive: An inclusive organization of writers who create stories about a woman’s emotional journey. Our stories may have romance. Or they may not. They could be contemporary. Or historical. But what binds us together is the focus on a woman’s emotional journey.

Others There have been others, many others, in my search for community and encouragement on the writing road. A few more highlights: Kristen Lamb’s WANA (We Are Not Alone) International (I read Kristen’s Blog religiously), Dan Blank’s Build Your Author Platform course (I bonded with a fabulous group of writers during this 6-week online course that will challenge everything you think you know about yourself as a writer), the Romance Writing Certificate Course taught via McDaniel College by Jennifer Crusie (my latest challenging adventure and another really incredible group of writers!).

The point of all this is not just that I love to join writing groups and talk about books. 😀 The point is, writing IS a solitary occupation, but that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. And sometimes you have to remind yourself of that fact.

What are your favorite professional groups and organizations? Why did you join? How do you contribute?

Roger Zelazny and Me: Talking the Literary Canon at Backspace

confhotelmay I attended the Backspace Writer’s Conference last weekend (it was my birthday present, actually). Wow, what a ride. Three days of workshops packed with info on what literary agents really want (no, really); how a book idea becomes a movie (it’s not how you might think); inspiring words from YA author A.S. King (One truly cool chick, go check her out. Like, right now. I’ll wait.); and choreographing fight scenes with thriller author Jonathan Maberry (holy crap, I didn’t know you could break someone’s elbow with two fingers!). All culminating in the equivalent of Writers’ Church with superagent Donald Maass talking about his writing how-to: 21st Century Fiction (props to Vanessa Lillie for coining the term 🙂 ). Lots of take aways, lots of work up ahead for me, but the best part was that I got to indulge one of my all-time passions: talking about books and favorite authors with people who love books and authors.bryantparkmay

In an evening conversation with Ted Boone, aspiring Science Fiction writer, I related an event that sticks out in my mind as formative regarding my notions of novelists and what they do. I don’t read SF these days (and I definitely don’t write it–never say never) but I have read it in the past and here’s why: When I was a young kid looking to sell Girl Scout cookies, my mom took me up to Stagecoach Drive in Santa Fe, which was potentially a brilliant sales strategy because Stagecoach Drive is Santa Fe’s equivalent of Newport, RI’s Bellevue Avenue. I don’t remember if I sold a lot of cookies–I think we were a bit stymied by the gated driveways–but the key to our trip was Mom’s acquaintance with Judy Zelazny, Roger Zelazny’s then wife. Roger Zelazny, for those of you who don’t know, was the prolific and award-winning author of classic Science Fiction and Fantasy novels. His oeuvre spanned the “Golden Years” of SF/F from about 1962 into the 1990s. He died in 1995. He was particularly known for his Amber series and for elevating pure genre fiction to something more literary. George R.R. Martin (of Game of Thrones fame and another Santa Fe resident) counts Zelazny as an inspiration for his own work.NinePrincesInAmber500

At any rate, Mrs. Zelazny selected a flattering number of my boxes of cookies, and while I was counting out change, she asked if I might like to see where her husband worked. I had no notion at the time that I was entering the workspace of a renowned novelist. I did know Roger Zelazny wrote books because his name was on the paperbacks my brother read non-stop in those days. As I remember the moment (which may bear only a little resemblance to ground truth) we walked down a few sets of stairs, like we were going underground. We got to a set of huge doors, where Mrs. Zelazny knocked. Upon receiving the call to enter, the doors parted like the gates of Mordor, and we entered a place of literary dreams. The Author, ensconced in the middle of floor to ceiling shelves holding books and Hugo awards, turned from his typewriter to greet us politely and a bit distractedly. I think he may have even signed a book or two for my brother. This is a sacred image for me, and no matter how many books I sell in the future (I hoping it will be many!), I don’t think I will count myself a success until I have an equivalent book-lined room of my own.

So thanks to Ted for reminding me of that formative experience. And thanks to Roger Zelazny for opening those doors so I could glimpse the writer at work and dream.

So what are your formative experiences about people in their workplaces? Did you visit a fire station as a kid? See the Marines at 8th and I? Anyone a Roger Zelazny fan?

Be My Valentine, Mr. Grey

dark-grey-silk-designer-tie_600I finally read all three of E L James’s blockbuster Fifty Shades trilogy. I read them at the urging of friends. I read them because when something this big occurs in the world of books, you want to form your own opinions. I read them because as a lifelong romance reader I was intrigued how a story that’s really a staple of the genre became so popular. Though there have been many, many reviews of Fifty Shades of Grey, I am going to add my own impressions to the general din because hey, it’s my blog! AND because Valentine’s Day is my birthday. 😉

I’m not going to worry about announcing **SPOILERS** because I figure if you wanted to read 50 Shades, you already would have by now. And if you don’t want to read it, the spoilers won’t bother you.

Things I didn’t like in the 50 Shades books (AKA a few unanswered questions):

1. Why did Ms. James decide to set the series in Seattle if she was going to have her characters speak the Queen’s English? “Laters, baby.” “Kinky f**kery.” “Fancy a game?” All British-isms. Christian even says, “Quite.” I ask you, do you know any American men who would use that word in that way? Ever?

2. Why do we never find out why Anastasia is so inhibited about sex? We spend the whole story in her head but she never mulls over why she decided to hang on to her virginity and her apparent ignorance about things sexual until she met the enigmatic Mr. Grey.

3. Why did Kate Kavanaugh, college newspaper editor extraordinaire, send her roommate Anastasia Steele to interview Seattle’s hottest bachelor billionaire with only a list of questions and no other preparation? Did she have laryngitis in addition to her flu and couldn’t speak? This in a way is a deal breaker for me story-wise because this unbelievable set up both starts and ends the story (the ending is from Christian’s point of view. Wished for a little more of that…)

4. At the climax of Book 3, after everything they’ve been through, why does Christian STILL think Ana is leaving him when she withdraws $5 million to save his sister Mia from kidnappers (other than it is a necessary plot device)? This does not bode well for their continued happiness, IMO.

Things I DID like (AKA why Christian Grey would make a great Valentine):

1. He is constantly feeding her while telling her she’s too thin. 🙂

2. He also tells her she’s beautiful, smart, capable, and most of all, sexy.

3. He gives her things: clothes, cars (Audis!), first edition Thomas Hardy, trips to France, Laboutin’s, a publishing company, hearts and flowers, an iPad with all of his favorite songs downloaded, orgasms.

4. His “vanilla” sex gives new flavorful meaning to the finest of the flavors.

5. His non-vanilla dominant sex (what’s the opposite of vanilla? chocolate?) is creative, uses fun props, and (control issues aside) is all about Ana (see #3 orgasms). Except when it’s about jealousy or revenge, in which case there is always a safe word, and it’s not “vanilla.”

6. He thinks of her while he is at work. We know this because he sends her great emails. In fact the email exchange between the two was one of my favorite parts of the whole series.

I have read many, many romance novels–which is maybe why friends urged me to read these booksand regarding 50 Shades of Grey, I am more in the “meh” category than the “love,” so I offer this list of follow up reads:

NRChesapeakeIf you liked 50 Shades for the complex story of how a young man damaged by an abusive past–but good to the core–is redeemed by the power of love, there is no one who does that storyline better IMO than the Queen of Romance herself, Nora Roberts. Her Chesapeake Bay series Sea Swept, Rising Tide, Inner Harbor, and Chesapeake Blue are some of her best.

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If you liked 50 Shades for the singe-your-eyelashes sex with dominant men and the feisty women who love them, I recommend Lora Leigh’s EARLIER BOOKS, Wild Card (recently reprinted with a 50 Shades-type cover), Hidden Agendas, and Dangerous Games (I don’t recommend the later series because they suffer from repetition and a general lack of editing IMO).

If you liked 50 Shades for the escape of the “life style porn” of glamorous clothes, private jets, yachts in Monte Carlo,

caitlincrewsand brooding men who own all these things and want to give them (and their love!)  to one special, possibly virginal, young lady, try Harlequin’s long-running “Presents” series, particularly Jane Porter, Caitlin Crews, and India Grey. The books tend to have really off-putting titles like Bedded by the Billionaire and His Majesty’s Secret Baby but the writing is emotion-laden and intense.

Blinkie courtesy E L James author website.

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY, EVERYONE!!! Anyone have great plans for V-day? Any book recommendations? Whatcha been reading lately?

Happy Anniversary, Pride and Prejudice!

pride-prejudice-bicentenary-challenge-2013-x150
Today’s 200th anniversary of the printing of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
is (for me!) a perfect moment to announce my participation in Laurel Ann Nattress’s P&P Bicentenary Challenge. If you have been reading along, you already know I am a Jane Austen fan! In fact, this post on Jane’s Irish connections apparently was my most viewed in 2012.

Here are the basics of the Challenge (details can be found on Laurel Ann’s blog):

Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge

Time-line: The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013 runs January 1, through December 31, 2013.

Levels of participation: Neophyte: 1 – 4 selections, Disciple: 5 – 8 selections, Aficionada: 9 – 12 selections.

Enrollment: Sign ups are open until July 1, 2013. First, select your level of participation.  Second, copy the Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013 graphic from the Austenprose blog and include it in your blog post detailing the novels or movies that you commit to reading and watching in 2013. Third, leave a comment linking back to your blog post in the comments of the Austenprose announcement post. OR, if you do not have a blog you can still participate. Just leave your commitment to the challenge in the comments section of the P&P Bicentenary post.

My Selections

I found quite a few versions of Pride and Prejudice in my personal library, plus a few continuations, retellings and off-shoots. Enough to up my level of participation to Aficionada. What a great way to dive into some books that have languished in the To Be Read pile and to revisit my favorite movie adaptations of this most romantic classic. I don’t have months assigned to each one yet, but here is the list so far:

BOOKS

Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match by Marilyn Brandt (2012)

Pride and Prejudice, The Annotated Edition edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks (2010)

Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James (2011)

The Darcys and The Bingleys by Marsha Altman (2008)

The Pemberley Chronicles by Rebecca Anne Collins (2008)

Pemberley by the Sea by Abigail Reynolds (2008)

Definitely Not Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos (2011)

FILMS

Pride and Prejudice (movie with Keira Knightly 2005)

Pride and Prejudice (BBC/A&E miniseries with Jennifer Ehle 1995)

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (movie with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier 1940)

I hope you will join me as we celebrate Jane Austen’s lasting legacy through the most popular and well-known of her novels, Pride and Prejudice.

“He walked here and he walked there, fancying himself so very great!” ~Mrs. Bennet in P&P

How to Finish Your Novel In 6 Excruciatingly Easy Steps

Typing

My first novel began during a NaNoWriMo while I was living in Rome. I talked about that writing adventure with best-selling author Diane Capri in an interview on her blog Diane Capri Reveals yesterday. Because that first novel began in a frenzy, I have high hopes for this second one, having just completed a 50,000 word draft in the last 30 days…

Someone asked me once if I had always written stories. The truth is: no. Sadly, no. I became interested in constructing fiction—writing it—only a few years ago, when I looked around my bookshelves and saw that fiction is what I read, what I have always read. Oh, I round out my to-be-read pile with a good non-fiction account here and there, but my love of reading has always been about a good story. And, again truthfully, I am no journalist. I can construct a decent feature article, but my heart isn’t really in it. I only achieve that elusive “flow” when I write fiction.

As I said to Diane, it was Rome that really inspired me to write fiction. There was so much to look at, so many stories: An embracing couple in the gardens of the Villa Borghese—what was their story? A lovely woman, with rings on every finger and Fendi pumps on her feet, striding down the Corso with a frown on her face—what was her story? A beautiful man, speaking with animation, and many gestures, into his cell phone—what was his story? And because I didn’t really know these people’s stories, I made them up. And then I wrote them down. Fiction.

Of course Rome has been inspiring writers for thousands of years. It’s part of the charm. As Tacitus said, “All things atrocious and shameless flock from all parts to Rome.” What a wonderland of ideas, of marvels to observe, and people to enjoy. I miss it. But the good part is, I have my published novel The Vendetta to remind me of Rome. Cool, huh?

So, since I have done it once, here are my tips to for writing and finishing a novel:

1. Find a topic you are passionate about. Even if you don’t write historical novels, you are still going to have to do at least a little research on setting and character occupations. Even if your characters live where you live and do what you do, they are not going to be you exactly. If you start out on page 1 with a topic/setting/occupation that doesn’t hold your interest, you will regret it on page 62. Trust me.dustbunny1

2. Write. This is where NaNoWriMo comes in handy. I find that self imposed deadlines are not nearly as effective as ones that have the guilt of social pressure attached (and/or if you are cursed lucky enough to have a publishing contract, monetary pressure too). 50,000 words in 30 days is doable. 1667 words per day. For 30 days. Sounds simple. And it is, mostly. But beware what must drop by the wayside as you pursue this goal. These are pictures of actual dust bunnies under my (unmade) bed. I am thinking of naming them. Any suggestions since Flopsy and Mopsy are already taken?dustbunny2

3. Rewrite. My favorite part. The rewrite can take many more months than the actual drafting. Find a system that works for you. Some suggestions: The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel by Robert J. Ray and Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon

4. Send out for comments. You should have at least one, ideally three, readers you can send a rough draft to for their comments. This is not a line edit but an attempt to capture their impressions of the overall flow. Are they confused anywhere? Did the story drag in places? What did they really like about the story?

5. Rewrite some more. After comments you may have to rewrite the thing again. By this time you will be sick of this story and these characters. But persevere, the book will get better with each draft.

6. Let it go and start something new. The truth is, you will never feel like your novel is really DONE done. Whether you hide your manuscript under the bed or you send it out into the world to be rejected, or published, or rejected AND published, at some point you will need to let it go. It is finished. Find that new thing/setting/character that fires your passions, write about it, then rinse and repeat.

Do you have any tips for writing or getting something done that you always wanted to do? I am thinking of getting a robotic vacuum, but then the bunnies would get eaten. Suggestions?

So Many Books…My Review of The Lucky One

Nicholas Sparks, The Lucky One (Grand Central, reprint, 1 Mar 2012)

I have taken a while to post my review of The Lucky One because I wanted to think about my reaction to the book. And when I got ready to write about it I thought, “Jeez, who am I to criticize Nicholas Sparks, an author who single-handedly boosted the opening of the movie based on his book with a social media campaign, and who has legions of fans who buy everything he writes.” Then I remembered that books are like wine and art: it’s all about what you like, not what’s popular, necessarily. So here goes…

Full disclosure right off the bat: I was NOT previously a fan of Nicholas Sparks. An author who writes love stories but eschews happily ever after endings will not generally get my vote. And that, I acknowledge, is entirely a personal preference. I offer full disclosure because although I watched the movie (first) and then read the book (because I did like the movie), I admit I was looking for flaws the whole time I was reading. And I think when you are looking for flaws in a book you generally find them. In the end, I found much to like about this book and almost an equal amount to dislike, overall leaving me slightly dissatisfied. Below I attempt to lay out what it was about the book that left me with that feeling.

THE THINGS I LIKED:

Good use of literary device to tell backstory.

Yummy hero—maybe too yummy (and also maybe colored by my mental image of Zac Ephron with his shirt off).

Finely drawn setting in North Carolina (a true strength of Mr. Sparks).

The dog.

THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE:

The heroine in the book (but not in the movie) was weak, wishy-washy, and downright high-schoolish at times.

Stilted dialog between hero and heroine.

Unsatisfying love scenes.

I will explain all, but must warn of SPOILERS. If you want to read the book or see the movie without my humble opinions coloring your experience, or knowing the ending, or if racy scenes bother you, DO NOT READ ON.

The Lucky One is about Logan Thibault, a Marine who finds a photograph of a young woman while out on a run during a deployment to Iraq. When no one claims the picture after a several days, he ends up keeping it. In the course of his duties over three combat tours, he survives attacks and explosions where others die, and he starts to get a reputation for lucky escapes—all tied to when he started carrying the picture around. He doesn’t really believe the hype about the picture, though, until he is out on a fishing trip after he has left the Marine Corps and his best friend ends up dying in a freak boating accident that Logan, once again, survives. This last straw pushes him to find the woman in the picture.

Logan walks from Colorado to North Carolina with his dog, Zeus, in search of the woman in the photo. Sparks uses that device of to deliver the bulk of the backstory on his main character, which works well because the reader can “remember” along with Logan while he’s doing all that walking. The story before the story, in this case, is crucial to the reader’s understanding of Logan’s motivation for just showing up on the heroine’s doorstep one day, and why he doesn’t tell her about the picture. Logan himself is an appealing hero: cool under fire, thoughtful, good-looking, strong, good with dogs and children, plays piano well, and is worthy of love according to Beth Green, the heroine. His only flaw, really—and it’s a big one—is that he fails to tell Beth right away why he came looking for her.

Sparks is at his best when describing setting and background. His explanation of the duties and thought processes of an active duty Marine, and his description of the small North Carolina town where Logan finds Beth are both real and immediate. He puts you there, in that place, and takes his time setting the scene so the events can play out on that stage.

Zeus, the dog. Great name for a German shepherd. Logan obtains the dog before his trip to North Carolina precisely because there is a German shepherd standing with Beth in the “lucky” picture. Ben, Beth’s son, falls in love with Zeus, and it is Zeus who saves Ben from the river in the final crisis, thus tying the photograph—and Logan’s presence in Beth’s life—directly to the life of her son Ben. I found that connection very cool; the movie was not able to do that aspect justice.

Beth has almost as much of the story as Logan, but I found Beth’s character harder to relate to. Her backstory: after getting pregnant in high school, she marries Keith Clayton, the baby’s father, but quickly calls it quits on the marriage after Ben arrives. Since her parents died in a car accident when she was a child, she now lives with her grandmother, who owns a kennel. Beth also teaches second grade at the elementary school. Beth’s ex, Keith, is the villain in the story and the scion of the most influential family in the area. He is slightly creepy, more than a little sociopathic, and very used to getting what he wants. Beth regularly has qualms about Keith concerning their custody arrangement and his treatment of their son and herself, but does nothing about the situation except worry and complain to her grandmother. The most unforgivable action for me as a reader on Beth’s part was, during the final crisis, when she stands on the river bank and more or less wrings her hands while her ex-husband (Keith) and her lover (Logan) and her lover’s dog (Zeus) all try to save Ben who is in imminent danger of drowning.

WORST scene/line (IMO):

Unfortunately for the love story in this book, the dialog between Logan and Beth is often wooden and juvenile—unconnected to the essence of these characters as we have come to know them—as in this sample from their first real date:

“I might have asked you out, but I’m going to make you drive.”

“And here I thought I was going out with a liberated woman,” he protested.

“I am a liberated woman. But you’ll drive. And pick up the check.”

He laughed…

Zeus seemed confused about what was happening and [Beth] heard him whining again.

“He sounds sad.”

“He probably is. We’re seldom apart.”

“Mean man,” she scolded him.

He smiled at her playful tone as he slipped the car into reverse.

BEST scene/line (IMO):

As I state above, Sparks is at his best in his description of the setting, rolling it in with action and Logan’s internal thoughts:

…he headed east on Route 54, walking on the grassy shoulder, staying well off the road. He’d learned in his travels never to trust drivers. Zeus trailed behind, panting heavily. He stopped and gave Zeus some water, the last in the bottle.

Businesses lined either side of the highway. A mattress shop, a place that did auto body repairs, a nursery, a Quick-N-Go that sold gas and stale food in plastic wrappers, and two ramshackle farmhouses that seemed out of place, as if the modern world had sprouted up around them.

Writing tip #5 (see previous posts here and here for tips 1-4): Do not distance the reader when writing about SEX AND INTIMACY. This was the deal breaker for me in this book. Since Sparks doesn’t go with the closed door entirely, why not play out the sex in scene instead of summary? After offering up personal details about themselves at the end of a magical date, Logan and Beth make love but the action is confined to this paragraph:

They took their time making love. Thibault moved above her, wanting it to last forever, while whispering his love for her. He felt her body quiver with pleasure again and again. Afterward, she remained curled beneath his arm, her body coiled in contentment. They talked and laughed and nuzzled, and after making love a second time, he lay beside her, staring into her eyes before running a gentle finger along her cheek. He felt the words rise up inside him, words he had never imagined himself saying to anyone.

“I love you, Elizabeth,” he whispered, knowing they were true in every way.

Maybe this is, again, personal preference on my part, but why not SHOW how much Logan loves Beth with his ACTIONS as they make love? TELLING us this way for me makes the scene conclude with sentimentality instead of deep emotion. Compare the above scene with a comparable paragraph from Lisa Kleypas’s Dream Lake (The lovemaking SCENE lasts for nine pages BTW; these paragraphs are toward the end.):

He settled deeper, every movement careful and easy. She moaned as she felt her body yielding to the steady pressure.

“Am I hurting you?” she heard him whisper.

She shook her head blindly. The sensation was overpowering, but he was so gentle, filling her slowly, letting her take him by degrees. And all the while he brushed kisses against her mouth and throat, whispering that she was sweet, soft, beautiful, that nothing had ever felt this good, nothing ever would again…

He began to rock against her, a lascivious friction that prodded and rubbed and caressed. The pleasure was shattering. She stiffened, her legs spreading as she was thrown into a blinding climax. His thrusts lengthened, centering straight and deep, and then Alex shuddered, and held her as if the world were about to end.

Whew! Blush worthy, I know, but Kleypas SHOWS the reader how much Alex cares for Zoe through his every action from his gentleness to his patience to his climax. And he never says the words, “I love you.” But we know. Which one is more powerful? Which one does the main job of the novelist—to elicit emotion in the reader—better?

What do you think? Is Nicholas Sparks one of your favorite authors? Do you like sex in books to be off the page or on?

www.marines.mil photo credits to Lance Corporal Ali Azimi and Corporal Marco Mancha