Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Where to start? And a sneak preview.

As I embark on my next writing project, there's always the question of where to start.

Books need a strong first chapter, something very few authors can get right on the first try. I need to portray the goals, the motivation, and the conflict - something that will immediately invest the reader into the pages that follow. Too often, I start with backstory, which is ALWAYS a problem. Nothing like getting my feet stuck in the mud with details that would be better filtered in along the way at more relevant junctures.

As I started off, I wanted to set the mood. Show what my hero was up against. And then I realized it was very similar to the beginning of another book, but not as immediate. So while my hero was stewing along the road ahead of him, I ran into "who cares" territory. The action comes in at the end of the chapter, but I slogged through a thousand words to get there. On the plus side, I didn't drown in backstory. On the minus side, it's still boring.

Finding the right balance is a challenge on the best of days, and every time I begin a new book, I understand that the first chapter is going to take a couple of tries before I get it right. What is the right starting point? I need an inciting incident. I have that. I need conflict. I have that. But the other thing I need to do is invest the reader in my characters. What about them is likable? What about them turns a reader off?

Over the past year, I've had the privilege to judge two writing contests. In case I didn't read enough already, it forced me to get through several books in a short time frame. As a writer, we also need to read, not just for enjoyment, but also to see what works for me as a reader and what doesn't. Sometimes an author provides a brilliant illustration of what to do right--and also what to do wrong. For instance, I read one book that got hung up in the character's occupation. For the first half of the book, we walked in her shoes, saw what she had to do, watched her do it while also juggling her home life. That would have been fine if I wanted a book on that particular occupation, but this was supposed to be fiction, and while she had a goal, she had no motivation and no conflict for the whole first half of the book. The blurb on the back told a story that was absent for that first half. Lesson: Let the reader know what this story is about right away.

Which brings me back to the proverbial square one, looking for the right place to start my new story. I'm close, but it needs some refining.

In the meantime, let me take this opportunity to let you know the next book in the Hillendale series, THE HIDDEN GRIMOIRE is done and will be on sale August 11 and is available for preorder now. Here's a look at the cover!

And here's a snippet to whet your appetite:

Someone pounded on the door and my heart jumped in response. “Who in the world…?” I rose to answer and was surprised to see my cousin standing on the doorstep. Although I hadn’t seen him in more than five years, I recognized his mother’s blonde hair and his father’s dark blue eyes. “Jason?”

Nora hovered at my shoulder.

“Good. You’re both here,” he said, barging inside.

I didn’t remember him as rude, but there wasn’t much I did know about him. “I didn’t realize you knew where I lived.”

“Jeannine told me.” He glared at Nora, and then at me.

His sister, Jeannine, and I had reconnected on amicable terms. Jason’s attitude indicated he wasn’t interested in being friendly. What could Nora and I possibly have done to warrant such animosity? Then again, his parents hadn’t spared much love for me despite taking me in after my own parents had died.

I fought to find my manners, even if he seemed to have lost his. “Nora, this is Jason Hanson. Uncle Jerome and Aunt Theresa’s son.”

Her voice was subdued. “So I gathered. How lovely to meet you, Jason.”

He leaned toward her, shaking a finger. “I know all about you. Stay away from me and my family. Both of you.”

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Audiobook - THE TWINS

Woo-hoo! The new audiobook is available for sale! There's a lot of hurry up and wait involved in the process, but the waiting is finally over. Narrated once again by the talented Jane Oppenheimer, this is the second book in the Epitaph series. In an effort not to spam people, I won't be sending a newsletter until next month, to coincide with the release of the next Hillendale novel, THE HIDDEN GRIMOIRE. So feel free to share this post with everyone you know who likes audiobooks!
"The Twins is just the story for any reader who wants a love story mixed with a little hair-raising suspense.  Jared and Siobhan are two broken people: him physically, her emotionally.  She helps heal his wounds and he helps her to believe, not only in spirits, but in herself. The main characters in this story are lively, complex and very likeable, as are the host of minor characters who carry over from the first book in the series.  Ms. Brandenburg masterfully weaves the paranormal plot elements into the story with subtlety so they feel organic and believable, and the cold icy Illinois winter is the perfect setting for a ghost story."  -- InD'Tale Magazine

Listen now at Audible

Also available at: 24symbols / Anyplay / Apple / / AudiobooksNow / AudiobooksNZ / Authors Direct / BajaLibros / Beek / Bokus Play / BookBeat / Bookmate / Chirp / Downpour / eStories / Fuuze / Google Play / hibooks / Hummingbird / Instaread / Kobo, Walmart / Leamos / Libro.FM / Nextory / NOOK Audiobooks / Papaya / Scribd / Storytel / Ubook / 3Leaf Group / Axiell / Baker & Taylor / Bibliotheca / Bidi / EBSCO / Follett / hoopla / MLOL / Odilo / Overdrive / Perma-Bound / Wheelers

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Sweet vs. Steamy

When I first started writing romance, I was conflicted about how much intimacy to show on the page. Not to mention that when I first started writing romance I was hyper aware of what other people would think about how much intimacy I put on the page.
My mother's going to read this!
As a result, my first novel didn't show sexual intimacy, but I got braver on my second attempt. By my third attempt, when one of my coworkers read the book, she blushed every time she saw me. "I keep envisioning you're writing about yourself." Doesn't matter how much I told her it wasn't me. Doesn't matter that the character didn't look like me, didn't work in the same job I did. The fact I drew on my travel experiences were what convinced her. Go figure. (It wasn't about me. It never is.)

Fast forward several years. The level of intimacy is no longer about who else is going to read it, now it's about how much my characters are willing to share. When I finished one of my Northwest Suburbs novels and handed it in, I'd purposely left the steamy stuff out. My editor told me I had to put it in. As an industry professional, I bowed to her better judgment. I'm not sorry I did, but the question remains. When do you make a book steamy and when do you make it sweet? For the book in question, the steamy stuff was part of the plot, so yeah, it did belong, even if I was reluctant to add it.

This brings about another discussion I had with a fellow author recently. When writing steps toward intimacy in a novel, there are different paths to follow if you're writing steamy vs. sweet. If you're going steamy, you include the physical reactions to a greater degree. The touches, both intentional and unintentional. The chemistry. If you're going to talk about the hero "getting excited," you should probably give him some relief somewhere along the line--likewise for your heroine. On the flipside, if you're writing sweet, those intimate moments are going to be less physical and more sentimental. The characters might still feel warmth, but they aren't going to have responsive body parts (because those body parts won't be "used" in a sweet romance). The touches are more likely to be incidental, more of an "oops." There might be hand-holding and maybe even a kiss.

Recently, the Big Guy and I were watching a "G-rated" TV show and the characters kissed for the first time. I laughed and said, "no arms." (They leaned in for the kiss but didn't otherwise touch.) Now, its a running joke about kisses with arms.


Don't get me wrong. A steamy romance needs the emotional intimacy, too. By its nature, a romance needs a happily ever after, and steamy bits by themselves aren't enough to guarantee a successful relationship. A good example of this is the movie About Last Night. The couple meets at a bar and finds instant chemistry, but they discover that isn't enough. They try to make the relationship work because shouldn't it? But it doesn't. It isn't enough. They don't have enough emotional maturity, no emotional growth. They aren't invested in each other.

Some readers cringe when they read steamy novels. Some look forward to the steamy bits. The trick is making sure those steamy bits, if they're included, don't interrupt the flow of the story. They should be there for a reason, part of the plot, and not gratuitous. Unless, of course, the book is erotica, but that's a whole other animal.

In the end, the level of intimacy is about expectations. If I show you a man's physical response, you're probably going to expect to see that play out. If intimacy is limited to holding hands or maybe a kiss, the expectation for steamy falls away in favor of the "awwww" moments where the characters bond over more emotional responses.

For those of you who want a more in-depth dive, my friend and crit partner, Terry Odell, is doing a class on the 12 steps to intimacy starting June 29.  You can find out more here: 12 Steps to Intimacy

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

How are we all doing?

I read the news. I watch the news. I try to do my part to make this world a better place. But some days? Some days it's all too hard. The conspiracy theories are out there all over the place, no matter what side of the fence you're on, no matter what you believe. I don't want to go on into a political discourse, because as I've mentioned previously on this blog, there is no middle ground anymore. Politics has become a competition of win/lose instead of a discourse to find the middle ground, and that makes me crazy. We can't all be right, but we are now put in a position where we are all wrong.

For the past several months, I've found an escape either writing or reading, and I hope I can provide some of you with a respite from the world, too.

Raise a glass with me, I've finished THE HIDDEN GRIMOIRE (Hillendale 3) and sent it off for critical evaluation, which means you will have a new book to read soon (assuming things don't fall apart in the meantime). I've also approved THE TWINS (Epitaph 2) in audiobook format, narrated once again by Jane Oppenheimer (EPITAPH), and am waiting for the outlets to put it up for sale. You can look for a newsletter in your inbox when everything's a "go" if you're signed up (if you're not, look for the newsletter link in the menu!)

Which brings me to "what's the next project?" This is where I ask everyone "How are we all doing?" Because this world we live in right now today is taking its toll. I have been getting "Out and About" (you can see what I see on my Instagram and Facebook pages) to find the good in the world, but my worldview is much more limited. I suppose that means I can find inspiration in my own back yard, and in this day and age, that might be the right "next book" to write. Can I escape out my own back door? May I invite you along for the ride?

I'm struggling. I suspect a lot of you are, too. We're in this together, and I'll do my best to keep you entertained until we figure out how the apocalyptic novel we're currently living ends.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Time Keeps on Slipping

I've been editing. The first draft of HIDDEN GRIMOIRE is complete, which means now I have to go back and fix the mess I made.

One of the most consistent mistakes I make is the passage of time. I'm one of those people who struggle with this in my daily life. When is your birthday? What day is today? Was I suppose to remember that? These days, I use Alexa to tell me every morning what's on my calendar so I don't forget. I thought I'd come up with a fail-safe way to keep track while I was writing, by adding days in my chapter heads as I write. #Fail.

I'm about 1/4 through doing chapter summaries and tracking continuity, my first editing pass. In each summary, I put the day and date. And guess what? Even though I thought I was tracking the days, I missed one. SURPRISE! I'm nothing if not consistent. Keeping my fingers crossed that my missing day doesn't have a ripple effect, but the good part about the book is there isn't a critical time stamp. I just have to make sure Brynn isn't working on her day off, or that there isn't a place where a time warp makes a difference. This really is the hardest part, the documenting and tracking.

My next pass will be for overused and filler words, and then I can read through the whole darn thing to see how it holds together. At that point, it should be "editor ready."

Does anyone else struggle with the concept of time the way I do? I'm never late for an appointment, always early, but when it comes to days of the week? Personal holidays? I need all the help I can get.

Hey, one last thing. Have you read FAMILY ALCHEMY? UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES? If you have and haven't left a review, I'd love to know what you thought. HIDDEN GRIMOIRE will be book #3 in the Hillendale series, and I'm contemplating "what comes next." Do you want to see more of Brynn and Hillendale? As an author, I have dozens of stories in my head at any given time, including a potential Hillendale 4. Or "something completely different." So many choices! What do you think?

Wednesday, June 3, 2020


For those of you who don't know, the title stands for "That Feeling When."

As I near "the end" on one more book, I'm running into that feeling when I don't want the story to end, but I want it to end. I want do be done, but I don't want to rush to the finish line. When writing a story, there's nothing worse than rushing to tie up all the loose ends in a very convenient bow.

I read a book recently where once the author wrote the climax, the point that the story was leading up to where everything comes out into the open and generally does some sort of damage, they packed all the loose ends into neat little packages. Sometimes those loose ends aren't neat, nor should they be. Consider shows or movies where the villain tells the person he's about to kill all about his evil plan instead of just pulling the trigger. Yes, sometimes that's the only way you can reveal how they got there, but I will admit to wondering why the villain just offed the one guy but stopped to chat with the main target. Savoring the kill doesn't hold water with me most of the time.

And so I'm finding myself in this same boat. I'm about to write the climax. I know what's going to happen, but I'm not sure how it's going to unfold. In leading up to this point, I had written a section that showed a moment of clarity, rather than letting it play itself out. When I re-read it, I realized it would carry much more impact as an "aha" moment. "Where had she seen that look before?" AHA!  Well, something like that. I was pretty proud of myself for seeing it was too convenient as originally written. Yes, I am still growing in my writing journey every day.

Which brings me back to finishing. I have to walk my character into a potentially dangerous situation and bring her out on the other side, and then I have to show the reader how this has changed her life for the better. That's what books do. They show character growth or resolution of a goal, or both. So once we get to the other side, I need to explain why we traveled the roads we did to get to this point. Why did I point out that particular landmark along the way? And I have to do it in a logical, believable way instead of throwing my characters to the wolves and saying "you have to do this so that the story works the way I want it to." Funny, but too often, the characters tell ME how the story works out. I think it's better that way. After all, walking this journey with them all this way, I don't want to betray who they are now. Add in that there are reader expectations for the type of story I'm writing.

Which brings me to that feeling when the story comes to an end. I want to part with these characters as friends, hoping that one day we might see each other again - especially when the books are part of a series. And I don't want readers to say things like "well, that was a little too easy." My characters need to stay true to themselves, and true to the way the real world works, or at least the the extent the world they live in works.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

United We Stand/Divided We Fall

Anyone else remember the song?

I'm stepping off a cliff today and wondering if this is a discussion we can have in today's world. My experience lately says no. In fact, I'm fairly terrified to write this post because of people on "the other side of the fence." We've reached a point in history where people are not just divided, they are willing to kill other people to defend their argument, right or wrong.

When did politics become a competition rather than a polite debate over two differing sets of belief, designed to find the middle ground? People don’t seem to care about middle ground, only about being right. In a conversation the other day, I was fairly shocked to hear a friend denigrate a voice of authority simply because she disagreed with the stance. I did not call her out with my dissenting opinion, because, again, we are a country divided. There is no middle ground. People are refusing to see the other side, either with willful ignorance or because they have chosen a side and refuse to consider they might be mistaken. Families are at war with one another. My mother was worried greed would tear apart our family unit when she died (it didn't, we were raised better than that). I wonder what she would have thought about politics tearing apart families. Would she have taken the hard-line stance people are taking? Moot point, and I'm fairly sure I know the answer. Despite our political differences, family is more important. I've had explosive conversations with family members, until we agreed to disagree and not discuss it.

Because of the explosive nature of this topic, I'm not allowing comments. I don't need to hear you defend your position, I've heard it all. And isn't that part of the problem? No one wants to listen anymore. Friends are unfriending. We've become so embroiled in our positions that some find it necessary to lash out at those who disagree--some of them with guns. How does that solve anything? "If you don't agree with me, I'ma shoot you??"

I'm one person. What can I do? I'm certainly not going to be able to dissuade anyone, or convince them of the error of their ways. People know what they're doing. Their stubbornness to concede even one point is what prompted me to do the only thing I could think of, write this post. There is a middle ground. We can come together in spite of leaders who strive to divide us. We have a chance to make our world a better place, but we can only do that together, because...

United, We Stand. Divided, We Fall.