Christian Romance Author Liz Isaacson: February 2015

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cowboy Romances

So I've been researching and preparing to write a romance featuring a cattle ranch and cowboys. Naturally, I turned to published books to see what's being done, and by who. There's a LOT of cowboy romance out there!

But two I've devoured in the past week are SECOND CHANCE RANCH by Cindi Madsen and THE COWBOY'S CHRISTMAS GIFT by Donna Alward.

About THE COWBOY'S CHRISTMAS GIFT: Returning to Crooked Valley is more terrifying than the battlefield to ex-soldier Duke Duggan. Still, Duke has an important reason to be back--to take control of his late grandfather's ranch. But being thrown headfirst into his old life makes Duke feel like a fish out of water. That is, until he sees Carrie Coulter again. Twenty years may have passed but the chemistry between them is stronger than ever.

When Duke threatens to sell the ranch, Carrie, the foreman, realizes she could lose her livelihood. But no decisions will be made until after the holidays. Until then, they have time to explore the feelings that draw them to each other. Together, can they come up with a way to keep the ranch...and the burning love between them?

1. I really liked the spicy heroine in this one. She's actually the rancher! I really liked that. I liked that Duke needed to learn as much as I did about ranching.
2. The chemistry is hot in this one. I don't necessarily mind it, and Donna Alward always does a nice job of keeping the door somewhat closed.
3. This had a surprise twist I wasn't expecting -- I won't divulge it, but I liked it. Made me think about my romance plots, and how they take shape.

About SECOND CHANCE RANCH: Sadie Hart has a plan: return to her small town of Hope Springs so she can regain her confidence—and bank account—before giving one more shot to her country music dream. The dream that means more to her than anything. The dream she chose over her high school sweetheart, the brooding and sinfully handsome Royce Dixon.

Royce has moved on from his memories of the beautiful Sadie. Now he’s focused solely on running Second Chance Ranch, where he rehabilitates troubled teens through ranch work. But when he needs a new employee and Sadie’s the only one to volunteer, he has no choice but to offer his old flame a job.

Whether riding a horse with the wind in her hair or mucking out the stalls, Sadie can still get Royce’s heart beating like no one else. But Nashville is her dream, and Royce can’t settle for second best.

1. I love the trope of second chances, as well as high school sweetheart reunions. I've written a couple of them myself. This fit that bill, and I liked it for that alone.
2. I liked the dialog in this one. It helped me remember that cowboys are people too, and they don't all talk with a twang or need to be dumbed down. (Not that I think cowboys are dumb! Just sometimes the dialog feels stilted. This didn't.)
3. This felt a little young to me. Like a YA novel, but with older characters. I realized that I wanted my cowboys to be older and feel that way too. It was a great read, so I'm not knocking that. It just helped me realize some things about my own book and what I'd like to do.

What cowboy romance have you read that you liked?

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Stakes

I don't think I've ever realized how hard it is to pin down the stakes in a romance novel. I mean, we all know how the thing is going to end, right? So we know the hero and heroine will get over whatever's in their way, and they'll be together. It's a romance.

But as I've been writing twitter pitches and revising my query letter (thanks to everyone who helped during the #SunvsSnow critique session!), I've realized that stakes are important. Even in romance.

And it's hard to put them into the pitch.

I think it's hard because they're usually not extrinsic. They're internal and if the people in my novel would just get out of their own way, everything would be fine. (Of course, this is why I love writing romance in the first place. I love reading and writing about people who realize their flaws and weaknesses and work to overcome them.)

But the internal, character flaws are hard to put into words. They're hard to make into something that sounds "high stakes" enough. But I've been reading a lot of successful queries, and then spending some time with back cover copy, and I think I'm slowly wrapping my head around how to do it.

Any advice on how to get the stakes into a short pitch?

Friday, February 13, 2015

#SunVsSnow Critique Day!

So I entered the #sunvssnow contest that took place a couple of weeks ago. It was interesting and fun, but as a new submitter, I was a little overwhelmed! My pitch wasn't chosen, and Michelle and Amy are hosting a critique session today. I decided to participate to get some feedback on my query letter and first 250 words, as I'm hoping to be ready to query the manuscript in the next couple of months.

So without further adieu:

Title: Summer's Almost Over
Genre: Adult Contemporary Romance
Word Count: 60,000

Query Letter:

Organized, list-making Sophie Newton has thrown herself into her beachside taco stand after her father said she could never run a successful business. She’s so dedicated to proving him wrong, that her ex-fiancĂ©e broke up with her because she was already “married to The Sandy Tortilla.” They might be right. She doesn’t care—she’s going to prove them both wrong, one burrito at a time.

When her summer help breaks her leg, Sophie finds herself combing the beach for a warm body to take orders. She finds that body—and what a body!—in Montgomery Winters, a tourist who stopped in town because he loved the lighthouse. An actor trying to break into action films, Mont left LA for the summer as a way to clear his head.

Sophie—desperate for help—offers him ten times what she normally pays, and Mont figures he can write an order for fish tacos as easily as the next guy. The money’s dead useful, but it’s the curvy company that really lights his fire.

When his talent agent calls to say he’s landed Mont a big audition, he tries to cool the growing connection between him and Sophie so neither of them will get hurt. After all, this summer was never about anything permanent—until he can’t shake her out of his head.

As Mont prepares to leave town, Sophie realizes that it’s far more than her bottom line that will suffer without his wit, charm, and intelligence. For the first time in well, ever, she wonders if there’s more for her than making salsa seven days a week, if there’s a possibility of a future for her and Mont.

But what she really has to answer is this: Can she let go of her grudges in time to show Mont that she’s ready for true love?

First 250 words:

Sophie handed an order of carne asada quesadillas out the window of her taco stand—The Sandy Tortilla—and pasted on a fake smile when a woman who was obviously one half of a newlywed couple took them.

She’d been working the stand for enough summers to recognize the glow of the newly hitched, even without the enormous diamonds. The men couldn’t stand more than two inches away from their wives, like they might wander away if given the chance.

Yes, Sophie had seen enough newlyweds to overdose on sweetness without even getting a taste of sugar. Her stomach lurched as she returned to the orders hanging above her grill. She focused on tossing the chicken onto the flattop, slathering the cilantro spread on the tortilla, and crisping up the chips.

With her utmost concentration on her cooking, she didn’t have room to obsess over Mark.

“Chicken verde,” she called out the window, and a teenage girl stepped forward. At least she wasn’t in her mid-twenties with a huge rock on her finger.

Sophie glanced down at her left hand, where, until recently, she'd worn a gold band with a single diamond on it. With a little imagination, she could see a tan line where the ring had sat.

Mark hadn’t wanted to set a date, something that frustrated Sophie. She liked deadlines, and making lists, and meeting goals. Without a date for the wedding, she couldn’t plan the event.


What do you think?

Thanks for reading and critiquing! I'll be heading around to get my critiques done this weekend too. (I think Michelle will have a link list on her blog.)

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Hero's Profession

I've been reading a ton of romance recently. I've been taking notes about when certain plot points happen, and the types of heroines and heroes in the novels I love -- and the ones I don't. 

I've noticed that the hero's profession is something that draws female readers in. I've seen carpenters and contractors. Very tall, handsome, and strong, with all that lifting and stuff. And they're very handy, if you catch my drift.

I like the construction type, mostly because I can't even pound a nail into the wall! :) 

I've seen professional athletes, in football and bull riding. Again, tall, handsome, and strong. Really know how to play the game. I've liked those too.

I've read helicopter pilots, musicians, police officers, firemen, ranchers, cowboys, and actors. 

I'm starting to wonder how important the hero's profession is. I haven't quite put my finger on it yet. I want my heroes to be familiar, but also unique. Sometimes that's really hard to do, because if you stray too far out of the lines, readers will be turned off.

So for now, I haven't tried coloring outside the lines. My heroes have fallen into the "acceptable" romance tropes for now. 

What do you think about a hero's profession?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

MEANT TO BE MINE by Becky Wade

So I've been on a quest to read more romance, in all genres. I have a great friend who recommended MEANT TO BE MINE by Becky Wade. Even better, it was published recently! (Another goal of mine was to read what was being published now, not what was popular several years ago.)

I loved this book. I mean, I really loved it. It is inspirational romance, which means it's very clean--which is just my cup of tea! Don't get me wrong, I love strong sexual tension and a handsome hero. And MEANT TO BE MINE delivers both.

About MEANT TO BE MINE: Ty Porter has always been irresistible to Celia Park. All through high school--irresistible. When their paths cross again after college--"still" irresistible. This time, though, Ty feels exactly the same way about Celia. Their whirlwind romance deposits them at a street-corner Las Vegas wedding chapel.

The next morning they wake to a marriage certificate and a dose of cold reality. Celia's ready to be Ty's wife, but Ty's not ready to be anybody's husband. As a professional bull rider, he lives on the road and can't bring himself to settle down.

Five and a half years pass. Celia's buried her dreams so that she can afford to raise her daughter. Ty's achieved all of his goals. Or thought he had, until he looks again into the face of the one woman he couldn't forget and into the face of the child he never knew he had.
How much will Ty sacrifice to make Celia's dreams come true, to win her trust, and to prove to her that their spontaneous marriage can still become the love of a lifetime?

There's so much to like about this book. Ty and Celia are obviously drawn to each other, but there are issues that need to be overcome. Since I already know the ending of the book, the getting there is the most important part.

And Becky Wade does a great job of making sure that readers want to salivate over how Ty and Celia will end up together. 

I love that the reasons he's not with her are legitimate, and the ones she has are too. I really liked the Christianity aspect of the book as well. Both parties have to come to terms with what they've done wrong, as well as working on forgiving the other.

It's a romance, so we know Ty and Celia will end up together -- the title is MEANT TO BE MINE -- after all. But this is one of the best stories I've read in a while that has believable, meaningful content on how the hero and heroine come together.

I highly recommend it!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Starting With Chapter One

I've been writing for a while. I've started and finished four books now. No, I don't think they're all fantastic, but I do like two of them. I think they're worth cleaning up, polishing, and sending out to beta readers. 

Since I just decided this year to submit my work, that's exactly what I've been doing. I just sent my manuscript, SUMMER'S ALMOST OVER, to a friend and critique partner for her feedback. And the waiting can be difficult. 

So I decided to start another book. I have a romance planning sheet, and I spent a few days thinking of the characters, the setting, and the problems. Then I started writing.

And there's so much more to writing that first chapter than just going for it. I think writing chapter one is the hardest thing ever!

First, I don't know my characters all that well. I do a little planning, but I don't do detailed character sheets. I know some authors who do. I don't need to do that before I start. I can usually go back in the revision process and "fix" my characters.

Second, I don't know the setting that well. There's only so much Google maps can help me with. So I find myself doing a lot of online research before I can actually write the first chapter. I'd scheduled to write most of the day on Saturday, but I really spent most of the day looking up information about Maine, and deep-sea fishing, and what a fishmonger does.

So while I did get quite a few words down on paper, I think some details will still need to be fleshed out. I'm okay with that. When I'm drafting, I like to simply go. I like to get the book down in a couple of weeks, tops. 

But man. Starting with that first chapter... that seems to take forever!

What's your writing process? Do you fill out an outline, planning sheet, character profiles? Or do you just go for it?

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