#WRITINGTIP: Getting the most out of conferences

Finally meeting NORA!

Finally meeting NORA!

This week is all about getting everything wrapped up before I head to the Romance Writers of America National Conference which is being held this year in Denver, Colorado. The to-do list as it stands right now is a little overwhelming, but I thought I’d make today’s #Tuesdaytip #writingtip about getting the most from conference. In truth, this applies to just about any conference you go to, a writing one or one to do your day job because they both start in the same place... PLANNING! So, here are some tips to make attending a conference less stressful, with pictures from RWA 2016 in San Diego!



Celebrating RITAs with Robin Covington

Celebrating RITAs with Robin Covington

1. SET KEY OBJECTIVES: Identify what your key objectives for attending the conference are. This is important. It will help you ensure you spend your time in line with what you hope to get out of it. If your goal is to learn more about your profession, then attending seminars, sessions, and presentations will be crucial. If your goal is to catch up with friends in the industry, one-on-one meetings and  group events will be the order of the day. If you want to land a deal, networking with the right people (at the right times!) should be your focus.

Squeezing in dinner with Jennifer Robson

Squeezing in dinner with Jennifer Robson

2. BALANCE YOUR PRIORITES: The next step is about priorities and time. I’m sure many of you answered that you want to do all of the above. That’s great, but you will hit conflicts. That speed-dating session you want to go to with a certain publishing house may be on at the same time as the session you want to attend on tips to grow your newsletter audience by that author you really admire. That’s when you have to come back to your prioritized objectives. In my planner, I color code my appointments into:

Must Do: These are my obligations, the things I am committed to doing. My publisher book signing, my keynote speech at the PRO retreat, the panel I’m on. These are none negotiable.

Love to do: These are the sessions I really want to attend, the lunch I want to have with my favorite romance author friends, dinner with my publisher, meeting my agent.

Like to do: These are times where I’ve picked the session that fits best in the time slot, but I’m not hard-core committed to going to it. If other opportunities come up, like someone in the hallway says, “We should grab a coffee”, these are the times I’ll offer up.

3. BE FLEXIBLE: Be prepared to juggle those priorities on the fly. At my first conference, I was on my way to a “Want to Do” session, when I bumped into Vivian Arend in the hallway. She’d been super helpful when I was looking for an agent, and I wanted to thank her personally. She told me she was on her way to grab coffee and would I like to join her. Of course coffee with one of my favorite all-time paranormal romance authors was going to trump the session I was headed to.

RITA Awards evening with Selena Laurence

RITA Awards evening with Selena Laurence

4. BOOK AHEAD: Conference is a hectic time for everyone, so if there are people you really want to meet and hang out with, book time in your calendars before you go. Of course you bump into people in hallways and at breakfast, but if you want to sit and catch up, book it now, because things can get a little crazy when you are there as everyone is trying to cram a thousand things into a handful of days. Knowing you have time-slots booked with the people you want to see most takes away some of the stress.

5. CONSERVE ENERGY: Packing the most into every day at conference can be exhausting, yet I also refer to it as my soul food. Don’t feel guilty for blowing off a ‘Like to Do’ session for an hour of R&R in your room if it means you can fully engage in ‘Want to Do’ sessions later on in the day or feel refreshed at an evening social event.

Hope these tips help, and I can’t wait to see those of you traveling to Denver.

#WRITINGTIP: Starting a writing inspiration notebook

Boy who was raised as a dog.jpg

This week’s #tuesdaytip #writingtip is in answer to a question I received from Alice. She’d read my post on getting inspired on demand, and wanted to know more details about my notebook. Here is the original post for those who haven’t read it.

Setting up an inspiration notebook is pretty simple, but here are some tips to make it effective and easy for you.

1. Decide where you are going to keep your inspiration.

I currently use a Moleskine notebook, but I am also trying to make my life more digital to make it convenient when I travel. I haven't gotten around to trying to transfer all the information in my notebook to my iPad yet, but if I do, I’ll use GoodNotes and set up an Inspiration folder.

2. Decide what categories you want to record.

Take a moment and think about your usual sources of inspiration. Is it from people-watching, listening to song lyrics, reading poetry? Flick through your last few books and ask yourself where the seed of the idea came from that ended up in the scene. For me, it’s quite simple. My categories are:

TheDarkestLink copy.jpg

Moments: These are ideas for scenes that I currently don’t have characters or books for. For example, I saw an ad on TV for American Chopper (a company who manufacture custom chopper motorcycles). I remember thinking, 'I wonder what they’d think of a classic bombshell walking into their garage to ask for help'. I made a note of that in my notebook and it eventually became Reid and Lia in The Darkest Link.

Lyrics: This is the easiest to explain. Any line from a song that inspires a feeling or a moment or an idea. I usually have to look up the song to find the exact words because this happens a lot when I’m driving! Thank goodness for Shazam (not when I am driving, obviously!)

Storyboards: In this section, I’ll record more flushed out ideas. Usually, I wake up in the middle of the night with half-baked ideas that run for four or five scenes. I’ll get up, scribble the run of scenes down, then go back to sleep. This is for the kernel of a new idea. I keep thoughts for my current WIP in a separate place.


Titles: Titles of books are so important, and as we all learned from #cockygate, they are better if they are specific to you. I’m slightly obsessed with ensuring series titles read like they are connected. The ideas for the “RE” titles of Preload came from a note I made in my notebook after I played a game of Scrabble and wanted to find a word that began with re-. Jordan Reclaimed, Elliott Redeemed, Nikan Rebuilt, and Lennon Reborn.

Characters: In this section, I have big picture characters e.g. young female politician battling to make her mark in Washington, down to micro character details, such as a tattoo design.  I’m a big people-watcher, so wherever I go I make notes of mannerisms, hairstyles, clothing choices, accents etc.

Books: I read a lot of non-fiction as well as fiction, and I’m often inspired by the things I read. So in this section, I’ll write bullets points that could inspire a storyline. I also put quotes in here. 

Miscellaneous: This is the catch all for stuff that doesn’t fit in the other topics. But when I start a new notebook, I go back through this section to see if there are any common themes I should pull out to make a new standalone section.

3. Build on the notes you make

As you can see from my original notes that went on to become PRELOAD, those notes grew organically over time. As I had a new thought, or read something new, I’d scribble it onto the page.

4. Done is better than perfect

Don’t get hung up on how your notes look. They don’t need to be Instagram-worthy. They need to capture the thought and moment in a way that will make sense to you later.

5. Read them often

I’ll often pull out my notebooks and flick through them. You’ll probably find that what spoke to you yesterday might not speak to you tomorrow. Or something you interpreted one way when you wrote it down now makes you think of something completely different.

Either way, an inspiration journal for writing is a great way to catch those moments that inspire you before they disappear amongst the hundred-thousand other things we’re trying to keep straight in our heads.

#WRITINGTIP: Doing Your Research

Today’s #Tuesdaytip is about research. It’s a question I often get asked... how do I do it? So, here goes…

Research can make or break a book. If you get important facts wrong, it can pull people out of your story (and you never want that to happen!). Here is a list of four things you can do, beyond the obvious internet searching, some free, some cost money, to ensure mistakes don’t happen.

1. Reach out to your network.

Sometimes it’s easy. My next-door-neighbor is an oncologist, so every time I had a question in Cujo’s story, I’d simply knock on the door. I send all kinds of random messages out. For example, “Anybody know how brain slice samples can be acquired?” (for Louisa in UNDER FIRE), was passed from friend-to-friend until I found a researcher who uses brain samples. “Hey, I’m writing a Navy SEAL series, does anybody know any?”,  got me a message from a friend whose husband’s roommate in college was a retired Commander in the US Navy  … and that’s how I found myself on the beach in San Diego watching the latest recruits carrying logs up and down the sand dunes during BUD/s. You’ll be surprised who your friends know. Six degrees of Kevin Bacon and all that!

2. Reach out to strangers.

For Lennon’s story, I reached out to an American, living in France, who had started a YouTube channel the same year after facing a very similar surgery to the one Lennon underwent (yes, I’m being vague for those who haven’t read LENNON REBORN yet!). I contacted him through Instagram and asked if he would be willing to answer some questions to help me write a character accurately and he was more than willing.

3. Be prepared for expert interviews.

When I was put in contact with an Advanced Practice Nurse in the burns unit at Sick Kids Children’s hospital to research for Daniel’s character in ELLIOTT REDEEMED, I had a very detailed list of specific questions. I did on-line research ahead of time to ensure I only asked the questions I really needed to understand. Many times, the expert interviews provide color commentary to facts you already know. So, for example, I knew contextually what a burns dressing take-down looked like, but it was the minor details such as would his mom be allowed to be there? Would Daniel be medicated? Does it happen in his room, or in a surgical room?

4. Read non-fiction books about the topic

IMG_5718 (1).JPG

For my LOVE OVER DUTY series, I read lots of non-fiction, from operative autobiographies to investigative exposés on the arms trade. For my First Nations character, Nik, in NIKAN REBUILT, I read extensively about First Nations issues in Canada (see link below). The incredible bi-product of both of these topics is how much my world view changed by reading them. I prefer to buy them so I can mark them up, but they are often available for order at your local library.


The list isn’t meant to be extensive by any means, but I hope it helps you get started.

#WRITINGTIP: Honing Your Craft

#Tuesdaytip #writingtip

(Originally posted to Facebook on 19/06/18)

Learning never exhausts the mind. Allegedly Leonardo Da Vinci said this. I happen to believe this is true for everyone. But I think it particularly applies to writers. Many conversations about books that I see on social media about writing are about the end product. A cover reveal, an early review, a release day celebration. These are very exciting moments! Celebrations of well-deserved achievement.

There are also many posts about the process of writing books… how many words have been written (or not!), that a character isn’t doing what the author hoped for, or sometimes the most spectacular moment when you find yourself in a Tires, Tires, Tires waiting room as words pour from your mind onto paper to create an incredible story (I’m looking at you Amy Daws!!) These give us moments of camaraderie. As fellow writers, we share your joy and feel your pain when you feel the need to delete the last ten thousand words from your manuscript.

What we don’t talk about as often is how we get better. How we improve our writing. How we improve the way in which we write. So, for this week’s #writingtip thought I’d share four of the writing books I have relied on at various points in my career to get better.

1. Deep Work, Cal Newport

If your mind is all over the place and you can’t focus on getting the words down on the page, this book is well worth a read. Fellow author Roni Loren recommended it to me and it changed the way I think about my productivity.

Buy Now: https://amzn.to/2MrBapd

2. Story Engineer, Larry Brooks

I love this book. It is my favorite framework for stories. It lays out the key elements of a great story. It leans toward a plotting type of author, yet it explains why even pantsers (those more inclined to sit down and free-type without a pre-determined structure) will have to address these issues in their story eventually, either as they write or in edits.

Buy Now: https://amzn.to/2Iwsn30

3. The Positive Trait Thesaurus & The Negative Trait Thesaurus, Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman

When I first wrote The Strongest Steel, I hired a professional editor to edit it before I went on submission*. When the notes came back, there was a lot of feedback on character development. I’ve always been very good at taking feedback, so I bought these books to help me figure out who my characters were.

*This is something I cannot recommend highly enough for all new authors – it is worth the investment. Trust me!!)

Buy Now: Positive Trait Thesaurus: https://amzn.to/2ttVFe0
Buy Now: Negative Trait Thesaurus: https://amzn.to/2IsYmRU

If you are liking this #writingtip series, let me know what you’d like me to talk about in the coming weeks.

#WRITINGTIP: Being Inspired on Demand

#TipTuesday #WritingTip

(Originally Posted on Facebook 12/06/18)

There’s a quote that has long been attributed to Nora Roberts, the maven of romance writers. It goes something like, “Every time I hear writers talk about ‘the muse’ I just want to bitch-slap them. It’s a job, do your job.”

As a consummate plotter, A-type personality, and Scorpio star sign, I totally understand the sentiment. It’s our job to write words (and do the million and one other things that comes with the author job description). Yet sitting down at your desk to bang out your daily wordcount can be a killer if you aren’t inspired, especially if you are squeezing that writing in around a day-job or raising children.

I often get asked how I manage the two, writing words and being inspired. And the truth is, I use a little black Moleskine notebook.

In the notebook are a series of tabs. Moments, Lyrics, Storyboards, Titles, Characters, and Books. It’s with me always… a catch all for those moments in life when I see or hear or feel something that doesn’t immediately have a place in my current WIP.


For example, in ‘Characters’, you’ll find lines of dialogue from Moonlighting, the Cybil Shepard and Bruce Willis TV series from the eighties. It sat there until the idea of Cujo and Drea came along in The Fractured Heart and I knew it was for them.

In “Books”, you’ll find my notes on Dr. Bruce Perry’s book, The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog. I’m no psychologist, and don’t profess to be, but I find the human mind fascinating. And if you are looking for a way to build out your characters, a base understanding of psychology is a great place to start. I picked up this book because I read an excerpt that talked about how childhood experience affects adulthood. When we write character arcs, often so much of the start-point of the hero or heroine is something that has happened to them in the past… and the power of the story is the healing, redemptive path the characters walk in a few hundred pages. I didn’t know what I was going to do with the information I found, I read the book while writing The Strongest Steel in 2014, but you can see over the page of scribbles, those notes started to take on a life of their own. Readers of Preload, my rock star romance series, will see the very early seedlings of the stories these notes became.

So, the tips for today are:

1. Start to build your own inspiration library. Grab a notebook and write down every thought you have into a handful of categories that work for you.

2. Pick up a non-fiction psychology book if you are looking to write complex characters.


Hello Everybody,

Welcome to our multi-author hop!! Thank you so much for swinging by my page to celebrate Kathryn Le Veque's World of De Wolfe. I am so very honored to have been asked to write a story for Wade Wolfe and Jeremy Scatler, the couple you meet in the contemporary epilogue of The Wolfe. 

You can buy a copy here, and watch what happens when a hot Navy SEAL falls for the sweet and sexy nurse of his dreams.

More than that though, I got to work alongside some AMAZING women who have written some tremendous books. I've stocked up my e-reader with them all. 


In case I'm new to you, I am a contemporary romantic suspense writer, and my Second Circle Tattoos series is published by St. Martins. My first book, The Strongest Steel, is currently a finalist for the Best Debut Goodreads Author 2015. Click here if you'd like to vote. 

In addition to the main prizes being given away, I will be adding my own. I will give away one book each to two lucky readers. Winner's choice - Together Again, Wade and Jeremy's De Wolfe Pack novella or The Strongest Steel - book one in my Second Circle Tattoos series. To enter, all you have to do is like my Facebook page, then head back here leave a comment. I'll be announcing the winner on this blog post tomorrow, so please check back to see if you have won.

In the mean time, please feel free to stay and have a look around or sign up for my newsletter, then head on over to check out some of these lovely ladies' blogs for more giveaways.

Alfred Hitchcock once said ...

Alfred Hitchcock once said that drama is life with the dull bits cut out. It is very true.


It is also why romance novels make such great escapism. Take breakfast. In a great romance novel, the hero flies the heroine all the way to Paris for breakfast, because he knows how much she loves pain au chocolat. He takes her to a small café he knows in the 6th arrondissement, near the École des Beaux-Arts de Paris and hand feeds her the warm pastries. Or he brings her waffles in bed, where she awaits him in trillion-thread count cotton. They eat the hot waffles sensuously and share luscious strawberries, before using the left over syrup in seven, sinfully erotic ways.

Contrast that to my breakfast, which consists of drinking a smoothie as I throw school lunches together while informing my husband that the cat threw-up in the hallway again. That right there, is why we need romance novels. Because, unfortunately Mr. Hitchcock, our lives will always have the dull bits. It isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. And, for those days, which seem to have been filled by only dull bits, a romance novel is the best means of escape.

You always remember your first.

They say you always remember your first … and romance books are no exception. Mine was Jewels of the Sun, Book One of the Gallaghers of Ardmore Trilogy by Nora Roberts.

I was stranded. Chicago O’Hare airport and ice storms have a very unhealthy relationship, and I was stuck in the middle of one of their spats. With a very efficient travel office at my company, I quickly secured a bed at an airport hotel.

Now, I needed some entertainment. Up until this point, I had been a literary book snob. I’d just completed The Reader and The Pilot’s Wife because they had been Oprah’s Bookclub recommendations. But that day, with my travel plans at a grinding halt, with work piling up and a deep-seated desire to spend just one night in my own bed, I was in dire need of cheering up.

I was almost embarrassed to be browsing the romance section. The bright yellow book cover of Jewels called to me. I purchased it and went to my hotel where I promptly devoured the story of Jude and Aidan. As I awaited departure the next day, I went back to the bookstore to buy books 2 and 3. On the flight home, I lost myself in Shawn and Brenna’s story.

There have been other books and series since then that have changed the way I read, and view, all genres of romance. Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter series was my first paranormal romance. Vivian Arend’s Granite Lake Wolves were devoured in Barcelona. I blushed my way through Cherise Sinclair’s amazing Masters of the Shadowlands series and recently asked Cherise via twitter if she would consider a swap … my husband for Master Marcus … she said she’d think about it :-)

I’ve gone back to those heavy bookclub type books now and again and can appreciate them for what they are. I probably wasn’t the only person who gasped out loud at the end of We Need To Talk About Kevin. But for me, I’d rather escape in a great romance with a strong, alpha hero and a confident, capable heroine.

Thank you Nora :-)


How clean can one person be?

I have 698 books in my kindle account. 696 are romance novels. The other 2 are gatecrashers. Python programming books by Mark Lutz that my husband ordered. I can't really complain about these interlopers because it's technically my husband's kindle account. Anyway, I digress. What I am trying to convey is that I've read my fair share of romance novels - contemporary and paranormal are my drug of choice.

So here is what I don't understand. How many times a day can one person shower? In some books, the characters are always in there. They shower before the other person wakes up, shower after the obvious, come home from work to shower while the other cooks dinner and then relax in a hot bath before bed. Some even shower at 3 o'clock in the morning. When I get in from a really late night, the last thing I want to do is shower. My husband is lucky if I wash my makeup off before I collapse into my tequila induced coma. Given I didn't marry Christian Grey or any other book boyfriend who would lovingly remove said makeup while saying in an inhumanely sexy voice, "There's my beautiful girl", hubby probably can't count the number of times he's woken up to next to a raccoon. It's irrational, I know, to get so agitated about such a basic civil duty as bathing, especially when the scenes are often well written, but you can only read about the soothing scent of jasmine or the perfect height of a ledge so many times before it has the same effect of a cold shower.


A lesson in ....

Yesterday was tough. I felt like I was missing out on something huge. Like the feeling I get when I know there is a shoe sale on and I can't get there for the start - you know what I'm talking about. The overwhelming fear that all the best deals will be gone by the time you get there and you'll be left with a pair of neon wedges.

Yesterday, I learned about #pitmad. You experienced writers all gave that same "ah!" at the same time. For me, as a newbie, it seemed like a feeding frenzy and I wasn't even close to the buffet.

I had just got my final round of revisions back from my editor on my first book and was just working my way through them to add the final polish. I had a plan to submit – a detailed list of publishers and agents that represent authors who write books similar to mine. A friend had brokered an amazing connection for me with a phenomenal lady from a well-known romance publishing house. I was working on a synopsis. Not quite ready but then I saw #pitmad on a post by a literary agent I have been following on twitter and my plan dissolved into a frantic race to describe my book in 140 characters. I burned hours playing around with words, polishing, perfecting and condensing.

I still had a day to go on the final edits and knew I couldn’t immediately submit which was against the rules and the rebel in me kept yelling just do it!

But I opted for patience. To have faith that the process I had carefully laid out would pay off. And on the plus side …. I now have seven or eight #pitmad pitches ready for the next time it comes around


About The Strongest Steel

I have just finished my first book, The Strongest Steel. It is book one of a four part series. Each book is stand-alone with HEA and revolves around an amazing group of characters that work in the Second Circle Tattoos studio. There are no cliffhangers, I promise you! 


The incredibly talented Tanya Egan Gibson has professionally edited this book. Tanya also happens to be the author of How to Buy a Love of Reading. It would take more words than my blog allows to describe the many ways she helped me get this book from concept to finished product. 

I am in the process of sending this to various companies and individuals so keep your fingers and toes and everything else you can spare, crossed for me. I know it will be tough but nothing worth having ever comes easy. If you are interested in reading the book in the capacity of agent, publisher or book reviewer, please send me your contact details through the 'Contact' page of this website.

I hope I get the opportunity to share the book in its published form with you soon.


P.s. If you need me, I'll be rubbing my lucky rabbit foot while hunting for four leaf clovers and upturned horseshoes!