Red Pencil ThursdayWe have a volunteer for RPT. Huzzah! It’s Catherine Wolffe, author of western romance. We had a little bit of a miscommunication. Usually, my volunteers just add their responses to my critiques. It gives them a chance to explain why they made the writerly choices they did. However, Catherine re-wrote her opening based on my feedback. I think you’ll enjoy seeing the metamorphosis.

And remember, if you’d like a ride in the Red Pencil Thursday hotseat, please check out the details about how to submit your materials. And now on to…

Secret Salvations

Mia: The “salvations” in this title hints that it may be an inspirational romance. Is it?

Catherine: Not in the sense of religious. Salvation in this title refers to these young men’s struggle with their coming of age in a difficult time. The battle to save those they care about and themselves. The Comanche raids on Mexico occur in the fall of 1846. Seth and Charles’ lives will be impacted by this war.

Shooter Creek Ranch
Tyler, Texas 1846

Mia: I like the indication of time and place.

Wide-open spaces loomed before him. Alone, eighteen-year-old Seth Loflin rode the trail, one as familiar as his name. Restless and hungry, but for what he couldn’t say, Seth traveled over Loflin land. A man didn’t have to ask where he was when he headed west out of Tyler, Texas. He passed through the Shooter Creek Ranch, the largest ranch in east Texas and one of the three largest in the state.

Mia: Can you give us a specific landmark for Seth to see instead of “wide-open spaces?” Maybe the curling ribbon of Shooter Creek, or a lone stand of pines on the horizon?

He scanned the terrain with a vague sense of annoyance. As far as the eye could see belonged to his father, Earl Loflin, a man as hard and unforgiving as the ground under the hooves of Seth’s horse, Sarge. He loved this land and never wanted to live anywhere else except Texas. Shooter Creek Ranch had been his home from birth. But lately, something was missing. Glancing at the sun dipping low in the western sky, Seth ran a hand over his chest, just under his heart where a certain longing festered. Putting a name to the yearning did no good. He’s discussed the matter with Maggie, the housekeeper and Loflin boys surrogate mom since the death of their maw some eight years back. She’d told him in her best Irish brogue, ‘You’ll be finding the answer when the time is right, lad’. Jake Long, Shooter Creek’s foreman and Seth’s mentor said basically the same, ‘You’ll find what you’re looking for without trying. Give it time’. Time! Time to pack away the craving he couldn’t identify. “Jake’s right. I’ll stumble on this thing, whatever it is.” Leaning in, he gave Sarge an affectionate pat on the neck. “Right boy?”

Mia: This paragraph is a big name dump of characters who are probably important, but since they aren’t physically here, why do we need to hear from them? Maggie and Jake don’t belong in this scene. It’s hard for readers to keep track of so many characters all at once. The first 500 words are so important, think about whether we need to know his horse’s name at this time. Also “maw” means the open jaw of a voracious beast. I think you mean “ma.”

In response, the bay nickered heartily.

“Besides, there’s always work to do.” He sighed, glancing off into the trees. Work kept the longing at bay during the daylight hours but in the wee hours of the morning when nothing stirred except the wind in the trees, he’d wake feeling empty and alone, as if he waited for someone, perhaps to share that sliver of time with before the cock crowed and a new day dawned on the world called Shooter Creek Ranch. Running his fingers through the thick mat of dark brown hair, a sigh escaped. “Let’s go, boy. No use in wallowing in it, is there?”

Mia: When we first meet our hero, we want him to have an imbalance in his world, a problem that will propel him into the special world of the story. I’m not sure this vague longing is enough to launch Seth. You hint at a rough relationship with his father. That can make a young man strike out on his own.

Also a word about POV. We are seeing the world through Seth’s eyes. Would he think of his own hair as a thick mat of dark brown? No. He’d just rake his fingers through it.

Sarge’s magnificent chocolate brown head rose quickly as he jerked his mane from side to side. The horse, always responsive, always obedient, picked up the pace. Soon they were trotting down the path leading back from the creek. The pleasure of the ride didn’t last long. The air filled with scents unfamiliar yet pleasing to his nose. Putting pressure on the reigns, Seth maneuvered Sarge into the trees lining the creek. His heart skidded to a halt with the sight before him.

Mia: Oh, I hope not a halt. Let’s have his heart do something else or this will be a very short story. ;-) Your descriptions are vivid but watch the overuse of adjectives. Not every noun deserves one and you’ve given “head” four of them—Sarge’s magnificent chocolate brown. Don’t tell us the scents are unfamiliar. Describe them. We want to smell them too.

The woman was most mesmerizing creature he’d ever seen. Her jet-black hair hung to her waist and her skin, reminded him of a creamy praline, the kind they sold in New Orleans on the street corners. Would she taste as sweet and creamy on his tongue?

Mia: Bingo! We have found the true opening of your story. Put Seth in this moment at the very beginning. It’s an inciting incident, something unexpected and bound to result in a more definitive response that “vague longing.” What Seth does when he meets this woman will show us more about him and his character than his horseback musings. Plus you can incorporate dialogue much sooner.

I confess that I had to lop off 12 pages from the opening of Erinsong before I found the beginning. I was “clearing my throat” for a bit, but it wasn’t wasted effort because it helped me get to know my characters’ inner motivations. I needed to know them at the outset. My readers didn’t.

Thanks so much for volunteering, Catherine. I like the world of Shooter Creek and I’m sure your readers will too.

And now here is Catherine’s revised opening:

The morning air filled with the scents of sandalwood and lilac. Drawn to the curious smells, Seth maneuvered his bay into the trees lining the creek. His heart skipped a beat with the sight before him.

The woman was most mesmerizing creature he’d ever seen. Her jet-black hair hung to her waist and her skin, reminded him of a creamy praline, the kind they sold in New Orleans on the street corners. Would she taste as sweet on his tongue?

Water swirled against her thighs as she exited the creek with the help of several attendants. Unaware of his presence, she trailed a long, slim finger through the water, giving the lazy current a steady ripple. Her graceful back curved slowly into a trim waist, which flared into agilely rounded hips above lithe thighs. She looked relaxed, as if she were enjoying her bath. Tall and regal, her stance reminded him of royalty as the other women helped her up the bank.

Disappointment set in immediately as they cloaked her body with an oversized blanket. Still undaunted, but wanting a better view, he urged his horse forward. Seth maneuvered Sarge between the low-lying limbs of the Mesquite trees, lining the banks of Shooter Creek. Careful not to disturb the leaves littering the ground, he worked his way closer. Still, Sarge managed to snap a stick beneath his hoof.

The women’s dark heads jerked up as they went on alert, searching the trees for an intruder.

One called out in Comanche, “Who’s there?”

Caught but still determined, Seth slid nimbly from Sarge’s back and stepped into the clearing mere yards from the bathers.

The magnificent creature with the coal black hair didn’t shy away. Half covered in the blanket, she only stared at him. The nudity a white woman would hurry to conceal proved no concern to this marvelous dream-come-to-life. The perplexed, yet curious glaze she pinned him with stole his breath. Her eyes were as green as the bonnie banks of Maggie’s Ireland and almond shaped in her lovely golden face. A sultry mouth of warm rouge formed an ‘oh’ as she allowed her gaze to travel over him. He didn’t anticipate the effect such a perusal would have on his libido.

Seth’s dick twitched in his pants. Where had she come from? So many questions flooded his consciousness that he lost his voice.

Before he regained his speech, the women hurried the maiden out of sight, the sound of native voices floated back in their wake.

Compelled to discover her name, Seth gathered Sarge’s reins, leaping into the saddle. His intention to follow proved short-lived when three tall, muscled warriors blocked his path.

Speaking Comanche, Seth tried to communicate with the Indians.

“My name is Seth Loflin. This is Shooter Creek land, which belongs to my father, Earl Loflin.”

The tallest warrior’s gaze traveled over Seth slowly before replying. “The People are camped nearby. My uncle, Chief Lone Eagle seeks the deer that water here. He comes in peace.”


Catherine: Okay, I think I like this much better!  I began with his discovery of the woman.  See if this is better.  I tend to get excited and forget something important when I have a new idea, so ask for anything I may have left out.

Mia: We’ll let the RPT commenters weigh in on the two beginnings. Ok, gang, what do YOU think?

Catherine's booksIf you’d like to try some of Catherine’s published works, here are the links:

Casey’s Gunslinger

Wolfen Secrets

Waking Up Dead

The Lady in the Mist

Comanche Haven

The Lady in the Mist Sample

A Dance in Time

Darlings of Paranormal


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Plaid TidingsWe have two winners to announce today! The first is Jane Lange, who wins a print copy of my RITA nominated Plaid Tidings. And Kalel wins a digital copy of any of my backlist in her choice or either Kindle or Nook formats.

Now if you didn’t win today, do not despair! You can still win your choice from my backlist in my monthly drawing. All you need to do is sign up for my newsletter! And if you want special access and the opportunity to score ARCs of my upcoming novels when they become available, be sure to become one of Mia’s Muses.

Happy Reading!

Red Pencil ThursdayYes, It’s Thursday and yes, we’re supposed to have a Red Pencil Thursday critique, but unfortunately, without a volunteer to offer up his/her first 500 words, we’re dead in the water. From unpublished newbies to New York Times bestsellers, I’ve had authors at every point in their career in the RPT hotseat. So far, everyone says the experience was useful to them and I know the rest of us have learned from their work.

When I used to sing professionally, I was often invited to participate in Master Classes. I’d sing an aria before a packed room and then a seasoned operatic pro would pick my performance apart.

“A little more nuanced interpretation here.” 

“A trick pianissimo would work well there.”

The master would give me a bath in public as we tore apart the music and reassembled it after about a half an hour of fits and starts. Finally, I’d get the chance to perform the same piece once more and it was always an improvement over the original. Not only did the exercise help me, it benefited all the other singers in the audience who were taking copious notes about how to use what they’d learned for their own singing.

That’s the idea behind Red Pencil Thursday but you aren’t limited to my opinion when you submit. Lots of my writer buddies drop by to offer their expertise. So if you’d like to participate, please send me an email and we’ll schedule your visit to RPT! 

Now to the topic at hand–picking the right title for your book. Why is this so important? Because your title is something that makes readers pick up your book.

The title is your foot in the door. It’s the first chance for you to show the reader what kind of story they’re going to get. CL Wilson’s Lord of the Fading Lands isn’t likely to be mistaken for a contemporary comedy.  Why? The title is too reminiscent of Tolkein. This is one place where it’s ok to be like something else. You want to call an image to the readers’ minds that will tell them where your book falls.

  • It’s true that authors have no final say on the title. That’s up to the publisher and more specifically the publisher’s marketing department, but make up a good one anyway. I sold Stroke of Genius based on nothing more than the title and a paragraph. Why is it a good title? First it’s a play on words with a sensual double entendre. It also gives readers their first hint about the main character—an artistic genius.
  • Use something familiar—Play on movie titles: Karen Hawkins does this with Sleepless in Scotland and The Scot who Loved me. Then there’s Kieran Kramer’s clever Cloudy with a chance of Marriage. Play on TV shows: Elizabeth Boyle’s How I Met My Countess echoes How I Met Your Mother. Play on song Lyrics: Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Ain’t She Sweet? is a prime example. Play on familiar sayings: My own Between a Rake and a Hard Place fits this category.
  • Series titles—To show books are connected, the titles need to have some elements in common. Evanovitch’s One for the Money kicks off a series that’s only limited by how high she can count. A is for Alibi still gives Susan Grafton 26 bites of this particular apple. Sarah MacLean uses numbers and a rhyme scheme to catch readers’ eyes with her 9 Rules to Break when Romancing a Rake, 10 Ways to be Adored when Landing a Lord, and 11 Scandals to Start to win a Duke’s heart.
  • Alliteration—People respond to patterns. Christie Craig’s Divorced, Desperate and Dating has a great rhythm. As does Tammy Falkner’s Tall, Tatted & Tempting (which is a FREE download right now for your Kindle! Click through and get it now!)

So now it’s your turn. What title do you think really works? Why?