Monday, December 13, 2010

Merry Christmas

Despite the miserable cold, snow, and ice many of us experience in the northern hemisphere in December we who celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day are filled with the warmest of feelings. This annual reminder of the Messiah's arrival, His purpose in our lives and the importance of our faith offers us hope in a world when things often seem to be going awry.

In other words, Christmas fills us with inspiration.

People of other faiths may even be caught up in the excitement of this Christian holiday even though their religious beliefs are different. At least this is possible in the United States where Christmas is a VERY big deal since most of the population is Christian. Even government offices close for this important religious holiday.

Not only do we Christians get caught up in religious Advent and Christmas activities, we also dearly enjoy the secular celebration of Christmas. Trees decorated in red, white and gold scent our living rooms, wreaths hang on our door, and all of us with small children in our lives eagerly await the arrival of Santa Claus.

"It's a Wonderful Life," "White Christmas," and little Ralphie's "Christmas Story" vie for playing time on our televisions with National Lampoon's "Christmas Vacation" and the Maureen O'Hara version of "Miracle on 34th Street."

Those of us who live in large cities may take in the local ballet's performance of "The Nutcracker." The rest of us hope to see a church's or college's production of Handel's "Messiah" or "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever."

If we aren't put off by bad weather, we'll attend local Christmas lighting festivities, our town's parade or we'll go caroling with friends.

Hot chocolate, peppermint, apples and cinnamon, fresh-baked pumpkin pies, colorful cookies, the scent of gingerbread, laughter, smiles, hugs, bright-eyed children, rosy cheeks, snow or sunshine--the baby Jesus--whatever fills your house and your heart during the Christmas season, God bless you with a joyous, healthy and safe holiday.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, December 6, 2010

Does Hard Work = Success?

Working hard may not guarantee the achievement of a goal, but not working hard to achieve a goal will likely bring failure.

A person in the music business said essentially this recently. He said whether you're a singer, songwriter, artist, etc. (in the creative industries) a person should rise each day, work all day and at the end of the day, maybe you'll have something good, maybe you won't. And that's okay. His point was, judging by the snippet I heard, was that creative people shouldn't wait for inspiration.

I couldn't agree with him more. While inspiration is a tremendous help with one's creativity, an artist in every creative field needs to work everyday in order to achieve goals whether they are "in the mood" to work or not.

Creating when one isn't inspired is difficult work. The words don't come easily for a writer in this position, but they will come. They may need to be rewritten over and over, but they will come.

The only time an uninspired writer is completely unproductive is when she refuses to work.

Whether a person is in the creative field or not, I believe he can benefit by paying heed to this: Work hard towards a goal and success is achievable. Behave mediocrely toward the achievement of a goal and failure is at hand.

Good luck with whatever your goals are now and in the New Year.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, November 22, 2010

Clear, Concise Writing

Getting ideas, scenes, actions from your brain to your computer isn't easy.

Sometimes I wish I could do a mind meld with my computer the way Mr. Spock in the old Star Trek series used to do with machines and organisms. Perhaps then I wouldn't leave out chunks of information the way I do when I write my first drafts of stories.

Just today I was doing rewrites on a scene, and I realized I'd left out some very important information. Facts which were clear in my brain were nowhere on the page.

Worse yet, the rewrites I was doing weren't my first set of rewrites.

Believe it or not, I'm making a point beyond what I'm literally saying.

Writing fiction is a complicated task, and we writers, no matter how many books, stories, etc. we've written, would do well to never forget just how complicated the job is.

It is imperative we remember to take care of all details which make our stories as clear and concise as they can be for our readers. We owe stories at their best to those who look forward to reading what we write.

I fixed what I saw wrong in my scene today, and I intend to read that scene again later this week. I'll go over it and over it until it is the best it can be.

And for all my hours of hard work, the reader will cover the scene in a matter of minutes.

Hours versus minutes--it's worth it even if it seems a bit too disproportionate because the reader's enjoyment is the purpose of every fiction writer's work.

I hope you enjoy whatever you're reading this week.

To all my American readers, I'd like to extend a very happy Thanksgiving. May God bless you and your families in every way.

And to my non-American readers--May God bless you too whether or not you are celebrating Thanksgiving this week.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning author

Monday, November 15, 2010

Negative Inspiration

What is negative inspiration?

It's what I'm feeling right now.

The hour has come to be productive, to wake my imagination, to stare at the blank page and create a picture, tell a story, delve into the heart of a fictional human being.

But I can't do it. My heart isn't in it at the moment.

I doubt there are any among us who have never faced a day of work without disliking the demands of our job. Yet, despite our occasional aversion to our avocation, we must man-up or woman-up and engage in our responsibilities.

We need to fight our "negative inspiration" and do our job. It is our duty, the work we owe to others and to ourselves.

When a writer is "uninspired" I suggest she take a few minutes to look at her favorite work of literature. Reading a passage from a friendly old book can be extraordinarily inspirational. Once she's read the beautiful prose, she should copy them.


No! not literally copy them. I'm NOT suggesting plagiarism. I'm suggesting the writer take the conflict of the scene, the motivation of the characters or some other aspect of what she's just read and create something new.

Taking time out to work on a "practice scene" will often lead the writer to having the ability to return to the blank page of the story in progress and get some real work completed. This session of "practice" can be inspiring.

No matter what occupation we might face with "negative inspiration" gnawing at our resolve, turning to something satisfying and uplifting and taking a few minutes to indulge in this activity can drive away the negative and replace it with the positive.

Take a moment, smile and remind yourself that you are good at what you do, and you're going to get even better at it. Know too that what you do is important to you, to those you love and even to others whom you may never meet.

That's positively inspiring, isn't it?


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, November 8, 2010

Guest Blogging

Hi, Everyone,

I appeared as a guest blogger at the Avaloners blog a few days ago. "Scenes Which Make us Cry" was my topic.

On Wednesday of this week I'll be a guest at the Romance Junkies blog. Look for a discussion of early Twentieth Century stories there. You'll even find a You Tube post of one of my favorite movies "The Music Man" which, of course, was set in the early Twentieth Century.

To read the post at Avaloners, go to:

To read the post at Romance Junkies go to this link on or after Wednesday, November 10:

I'm sure you'll find both of these posts intriguing and well worth your time, particularly if you're a fan of historical stories.

Be sure to leave a comment at either of the two blogs or this one, if you'd like to.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, November 1, 2010

Intriguing Openings

Ted hadn't noticed the elevator car wasn't there when he stepped into the shaft.


A statement such as this one is likely to get a reader's attention.

A good opening line at the beginning of a book is vital to "hooking" the reader. If she isn't intrigued by the first line, will she read the second, third, fourth?

A writer owes her readers a compelling story. Every scene in a book should begin with a great opening line. The sentence need not convey danger or be as graphic as the line about Ted above, but it should effectively interest the reader, set up a mood, clarify a setting, give information about characters, etc.

The opening ideally intrigues the reader and effectively coaxes him to want to read more. To illustrate what I mean, I'll post a few first lines from several scenes in my dramatic contemporary romance "Stolen Son."

Opening 1. "The knock at the door nearly made her drop a whole handful of fresh bay leaves into simmering pot of tomato sauce."

Lots of information in this opening: She's in the kitchen cooking a tomato sauce (mm, I can smell it!)--we've all done something similar so right away we can identify with our heroine. The INTRIGUING part of this setup comes in the knock at the door. "Who is it?" the reader wants to know, and how is the person on the other side of the door going to change the heroine's life? This opening has a hook; it paints a domestic picture; it tells us a bit about what the heroine enjoys doing.

Opening 2. "Logan sat on the sofa while Rafe took a couple of beers out of the small refrigerator next to his credenza."

This one sentence gives the reader a lot of information: Logan and Rafe are probably buddies since they're having a beer together. The "small refrigerator next to his credenza" implies an office setting. The office has a sofa as well as a stocked fridge so it's a business/casual situation. This scene evokes reader curiosity in addition to illustrating a setting: What are these two men up to? Is it business or personal? INTRIGUING.

Opening 3. "He laid her on the sofa and placed a pillow under her head."

Totally INTRIGUING. Who is she? Is she passed out? Drunk? Sick? Who is she to him? And who is he? Are his motives compassionate or sinister? In addition to the "hook" value to this statement, the reader is grounded in the location of the scene.

Opening 4. "Rafe couldn’t help whistling as he bound up the three steps leading to the entrance of C & W Construction."

This opening line is a perfect illustration of what writers mean when they say they want to "show" something instead of "tell" it. The mood of this scene could have been easily set up by saying "Rafe was really, really happy," but we'd have a pretty lame sentence to read compared to the "whistling" one in that case, wouldn't we? This first liner conveys mood, identifies one character in the scene and the location. INTRIGUING part--just what is this guy so happy about? And how long will his happiness last?

Opening 5. "The joy of spending the night with Christopher was marred by having it take place in the hospital."

Majorly INTRIGUING! Conflict abounds. "Joy" and "in the hospital" are two things one would certainly not usually equate with each other. The statement prompts the reader to wonder: Who is with Christopher? Who is Christopher? Who was hospitalized and why? What is going on here!! In addition to effectively creating reader curiosity, this opening gives location and reveals the unusual, conflicting mood of the person whom we believe will be the star of this scene.

Opening lines are used to intrigue and inform readers. The better they are, the greater the reader enjoys the story.

And entertaining the reader is what writing fiction is all about.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, October 25, 2010

Rewriting Life

I've done a lot of editing of books this year, rewriting too.

Today I'm thinking how different everything would be if we could edit or rewrite our lives the way we authors update and upgrade our works.

While I believe much of our lives would remain the same because we would choose to not change things, we'd likely decide to erase some of the things we've done and either do nothing or something totally different. In some cases, when we chose to sit on the sidelines, we may choose instead to take an active part in correcting a wrong we had witnessed.

If you could "rewrite" or "edit" a part of your life, what would it be?

As for me, I would have made writing a priority much earlier in my life because, once I did, my life got better. I felt more accomplished and fulfilled. And who among us doesn't want to feel fulfilled?

I'd also have liked to have been a lot stronger when I was younger. I let too many people push me around, and it stifled me and held me back from accomplishing things I wanted to do until later in life.

DANGER: While editing and rewriting in books usually causes an improvement because the author has a firm control on the actions and reactions of characters, editing and rewriting in real life, if it were possible, would not be the same because people are not fictional characters, and they don't behave like they are.

Anything we do directly affects people around us, and it affects us too. Our life experiences make us who we are based upon our reactions to what happens to us. Other people become who they are sometimes as a direct result of something we may have done to or for them.

While we cannot rewrite the past we can shape our future. We can choose to make the same mistakes again even if we regret having made them or we can decide to live a certain way and follow that plan, doing our edits and rewrites as we go along by taking time to think before we act.

Doable, yes, but not always easy.

This is getting a little heavy. I think it's time to stop thinking so much about rewriting life, which is often too hard, and go back to doing my edits and rewrites on my current fictional project. We'll probably all be happier if I do. :-)

Here's hoping your week is a wonderful one, full of God's blessings.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, October 18, 2010

Loving Autumn

Autumn is my favorite time of year. Apples, football, new beginnings, crisp air, wonderful holidays, beautiful colors... Ah, autumn.

Autumn is the perfect time of year for family outings too. We've taken a couple of drives this fall so far, and we truly enjoyed the sights.

Unlike the terribly wet, cold October last year, this fall has been warm and dry. Farmers have been out in full force bringing in the harvest--corn, soybeans, sugar beets, apples, pumpkins and so much more.

I can't watch these strong individuals working in their fields without thinking about the importance of their work--providing for the needs of all of us in the US and, indeed, in the world.

Feelings of thanksgiving come over me whenever I travel through the country. We are blessed with plenty here in the US, with the ability to raise enough food for ourselves and for so many others throughout the world.

If you haven't yet taken the time to enjoy the outdoors this autumn, I hope you set aside a day or a few hours to see the beauty surrounding you.

God bless you with a wonderful, beautiful autumn week.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Before You Write Your Novel--5 Tips to Help

Preparing to write a novel can sometimes take almost as much time as writing the first draft.

In addition to doing research for the book he's writing a novelist must plan the plot, flesh out the characters, and surround himself in the location of the book. The more immersed a writer is in his setting, characters and action, the more realistic his story will be. The more realistic his story, the greater the enjoyment for the reader.

So, how does the novelist tackle her pre-writing chores?

1. She researches the time period in which the novel is set.

2. He knows the location where the novel is set.

3. He understands EVERYTHING about the characters in the novel, minor characters as well as major ones. He knows details which may never be revealed to readers. The better a writer understands the characters in his novel, the more realistically the characters will react to their challenges.

4. She plans her plot from start to finish, then she follows her plan. A professional writer will not become sidetracked from her novel's plan, but she will add enhancements to her plot as she writes and rewrites her story.

5. The plot plan method a writer uses is strictly up to him. An outline works better than a storyboard for some writers. Others like to use chapter summaries. Some writers summarize or outline scenes and group them into chapters. Whatever method works best for the individual writer is what he should use since his comfort level with his method will enable him to be more productive.

Pre-writing can save time and cut down on frustration levels as a writer works on her book. I highly recommend the ultimate in organization of plot and characters before a novelist begins to write her story.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, October 4, 2010

10 Steps to Completing a Novel

If you've always wanted to write a book, but you've never quite gotten around to doing it, help is here!

Take a look at these ten steps designed to help you start and finish the book you've always wanted to write.

1. Commit to your goal. This time you are really, really going to write the book you've always wanted to write.

2. Don't let anyone or anything take you away from your focus on completing your novel.

3. Read all you can on the topic of writing. The more you know, the better the project will go.

4. Write everyday. No excuses. Even if you spend only 15 or 20 minutes on your work in progress (WIP) you must write everyday.

5. Designate a workplace and work there. This helps to keep your focus on writing, and it's a gentle mental reminder that you are to work in this location.

6. Schedule writing time and stick to it. Discipline is very important when writing. You are working alone; no one is watching over you, making sure you're working so anything you can do to help with self discipline is good.

7. No matter if you are discouraged, "blocked," or lazy, you MUST write.

8. If you really, really can't get anywhere on your current WIP, don't quit writing; work on another writing project. Personally, I usually have several projects going at once. I seem to be more productive when I work on more than one project at a time.

9. Make a daily goals chart if you need encouragement and reward yourself each time you complete a goal.

10. Never, never, never give up. Persevere until the first draft is complete.

Writing, like any other pursuit, requires dedication and commitment. If you can stick it out throughout the process of completing a book, you'll discover rewards you never expected.

Fran Shaff

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Real Life Romance

If we didn't want "happily ever after" in our lives, romantic fiction wouldn't be as popular as it is.

Being a writer of sweet romance, my life revolves around creating fictional characters who have challenging problems to overcome in order to find their "happily ever after" in holy matrimony.

What a blissful day it is when we find "happily ever after" romance in a real-life situation.

This past weekend I was able to attend the wedding of a very special woman. I've known the bride since she was born. She was a beautiful little girl, full of energy. She's always had a great zest for life and a wonderful, warm love for people.

On her wedding day, this lovely woman was more beautiful than ever in every way. Her energy and zest for life was at its zenith as she danced to her recessional music with her handsome groom at her side while they exited the church after the ceremony.

What a thoroughly exquisite day! Rarely do magnificent moments occur in our lives. I'm going to savor this "happily ever after" one for a long, long time.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, September 20, 2010

A New Chapter

Readers and beginning writers often ask me questions about book chapters.

1. How do you know how long to make a chapter?

2. How do you know when to end a chapter?

3. How do you determine the number of chapters there should be in a book?

In reality, there is one answer suitable in replying to all these questions: It's up to the author.

However, there are some factors the author will take into account in making her own determination regarding the length of chapters, number of them in a book and how to end her chapters.

1. Length of chapter. Sometimes the author needs to take into account a format a publisher may use in all the books it produces for a certain line the book may be a part of. In this case, the format will determine the length of the chapter.

Genre also plays a factor in determining the length of chapters. Books which are suspenseful may use shorter chapters to help imply a sense of urgency. Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" comes to mind. Some of the chapters in that book are very short, and, of course, the book is quite suspenseful.

2. Ending a chapter. The end of a scene is a good place to end a chapter. The end of an event is too, so is a change of setting or a change of point of view or a dozen other happenings in a story.

The only hard and fast rule which should be considered in ending a chapter is this: end with conflict. If a chapter doesn't end in a way which entices the reader to continue, he may close the book. Don't want that!

3. Number of chapters. Just as in determining the length of chapters, publisher format and genre may determine the number of chapters in a fictional book. If these factors are not necessary for consideration, then number of chapters is totally the choice of the author.

Of all the "rules" of writing, essentially there are no rules for chapter length, format of chapters and number of chapters in a novel. The author can pretty much do what he wants.

However, as in all aspects of book writing, it is always wise to keep the reader in mind when setting up chapters. Too much inconsistency in formatting chapters can unsettle and frustrate a reader while classic style, evenness of pace and an engaging flow to the story compel the reader to continue reading.

Book writing is a terribly complicated process, and setting up chapters, as professional writers know, is pretty far down the list of things they are thinking about when they are undertaking the job of writing a novel.

Nevertheless, people have a few questions about chapters, and I hope I've answered to everyone's satisfaction today. If I haven't, please leave a comment with your question, and I'll get back to you.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, September 13, 2010

Reality in Fiction

I don't know about you, but I like my books, movies, etc. to have plenty of reality laced inside their fictitious plots. I can really wrap my head and heart around a storyline which seems plausible, real, believable.

I strive to put a bit of harsh reality in each of my books. Whether I'm painting a picture of the grim life of a homeless boy in the 1880's scraping out a living on the streets in New York (A Partner's Promise), revealing the pain a man suffers when he learns his beloved son is in reality a baby who was stolen years ago by his late wife who'd arranged an illegal adoption (Stolen Son), or speculating what might happen to infatuated "love at first sighters" when one accidentally deeply hurts the other (For Love of Maggie), my dramatic stories strive to give readers constant reality checks, just as life does for us when everything seems to be going rather well.

To illustrate my point, I have an excerpt below from FOR LOVE OF MAGGIE. Watch as Kayla Franklin's bliss is dampened by the reality of her everyday life.

Setup: Roth’s just given Kayla a ride home. She’s invited him in for coffee, and, in a moment of closeness, she’s told him how she became Maggie’s mother. Roth, overcome with emotion upon hearing her story, ends up seizing the moment--and Kayla!

Roth cupped her cheeks with his hands. “You're an angel, Kayla.”

Before she could insist she wasn't, his lips covered hers, and she was in heaven.

He slid his fingers into her hair and kneaded her scalp as he kissed her more completely than she'd ever been kissed.

Even though she felt his touch deep within her, Kayla needed more of him. She slid her hands over his firm chest around to his back and pressed him closer.

He sent his hands to her spine and crushed her against himself.

He ended the kiss and pressed his cheek to hers. The exquisite roughness of his beard against her silken skin touched her all the way to her toes. He breathed into her ear and nearly drove her mad with his words.

“Kayla, angel, sweet Kayla,” his raspy voice and the passionate tone in his words nearly drove her mad with desire. As if he’d read her mind, his lips immediately found their way back to hers.

She began to loosen Roth's shirt from his waistband. She needed to touch his skin. But his belt was tightly cinched around his waist. She stopped her efforts and, instead, settled for feeling his warmth through his blue work shirt.

His lips left hers. He trailed kisses from her chin to her collar bone.

She threw her head back and gasped at the pleasure he caused deep inside her.

Suddenly, he took hold of her shoulders and stared down at her.

Kayla, caught in his sultry gaze of desire, couldn't speak.

He closed his eyes tightly for a moment then looked at her with the gentlest visage she'd ever seen. He cupped her cheek with his large hand. “Kayla, you're so beautiful.”

In that, the most intense moment she had ever experienced in her life, Kayla wanted nothing else but Roth. She wanted his arms around her, his lips on her. She wanted his heart beating against hers and his scratchy cheek reddening her silky one. She wanted him to carry her in his arms to some secluded place blessed with glorious beauty where the two of them could learn everything about each other, body and soul. She wanted a union with him more unique than any human before them had ever known.

“Roth,” she whispered, barely able to speak, “I...”

He touched his fingers to her lips. “Kayla, shh.”

He kissed her again, and rapture became her new world, full of sun and bliss.

This haze of heaven, living and true on earth, lasted minute after minute until she thought she’d explode from the sheer joy filling her empty depths.

Abruptly and without any warning, something began to tear at the bliss. Shadows clouded the sun until a near total eclipse consumed their planet.

Kayla felt something tug at her skirt, trying to wrench her from the paradise she never wanted to leave.

The tug came several more times before she finally withdrew from her perfect world into the reality of her tangible existence.

“Maggie,” Kayla said, looking at the child who’d insistently tugged her skirt. She tore herself from Roth's arms and bent to touch her. “What are you doing out of bed. Did we wake you?”

She rubbed her hand over her flannel pajama bottoms.

Thanks to years of experience, Kayla knew exactly what was wrong. “She's wet, Roth,” she said glancing up at him. “I've got to take care of her.” She picked her up and stood up straight. “I guess things got out of hand between us,” she said, looking down. “It's been an emotional night.”

He looked at Maggie in a peculiar way, stared a long time. He glanced at Kayla, his eyes filled with pain.

Kayla's heart broke. His feelings about Maggie hadn't changed a bit, she concluded.

Roth cleared his throat and rubbed a hand over his face. “It was my fault, Kayla. I couldn’t help myself. The story you told me was remarkable; you’re remarkable. I just had to take you in my arms. It was my fault.”

She squared her jaw and lifted her chin. “Yes, maybe it was, but maybe it was my fault too. It seems we have a strange basal effect on each other. I guess we'll both have to keep our emotions in check. Neither one of us wants a relationship with the other. We'd both better keep that in mind.”

“But, Kayla--”

“Good night, Roth.” She left the kitchen before he could say another word. By the time she reached the bottom of the stairway in the hall on the other side of the dining room, she heard the back door close.

Clearly, Roth had once again taken her from heaven to the lowest regions of the netherworld. She was alone and empty with a wet child in her arms.

The happy, fulfilled life she had enjoyed for many years was now unbearably lonely.


Is anything more real than having to deal with taking care of a wet little girl?

Fortunately, since I, like most of you, prefer happy endings my protagonists always find a way to work through their monumental challenges.

This week, I'm wishing you romantic things to brighten your life when things get a little too real. I hope your week is a flowery, pretty one!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, September 6, 2010

Happy Labor Day Week

I hope everyone has a good week reflecting on the wonderful contribution all laborers make to our societies. From parents to teachers, preachers, custodians, doctors, dentists, checkout clerks, factory workers, shelf stockers, etc. all people who work to make our lives better deserve acknowledgment for jobs well done.

It is good to take time to think about how we contribute in positive ways to our lives, to those around us and even to strangers we will never meet.

As a writer, I hope my words, whether here or in one of my books, short stories or articles, bring something positive to readers and help other writers in some way.

As a volunteer, I hope the strangers I may never meet feel the warmth of a hug when they are in need of something my fellow volunteers and I have provided.

As for you, God bless you for your efforts to contribute your labor in positive ways to your friends, families and to strangers.

Have a great week and a wonderful autumn.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, August 30, 2010

Goals for Writers

Have you always wanted to write a book?

Are you in the process of writing your first book? Your second? Your fifth?

Whether you've written a dozen books or you've yet to complete the first paragraph of the novel you've been wanting to write for years, it is important to understand a writer must set goals if he wants to complete his first or his next book.

I've always had an interest in writing. I dabbled in it for years, even had a short story published in a widely-circulated magazine before I ever got really serious about writing.

When at last I made a commitment to be a real writer, someone who has made writing a priority, I finally set my first goal. I decided I wanted to write a book and have it published by Avalon Books. I'd read many of their books, and I really enjoyed them.

It took me a couple of years to meet my goal. They rejected the first couple of manuscripts I sent but loved the third one. A few months later "Montana Match" was published. I was thrilled, but suddenly I realized I had a dilemma.

I'd met my goal, so what do I do now?

I'd been so focused on that objective, I never gave a thought about what would come once I'd met my goal--probably because I had little confidence I ever would.

I knew I didn't want to quit writing. Like most writers I needed to write. Eventually, as I muddled through the foreign business of writing, I realized if I was going to make a career of this avocation, I needed to set goals--daily goals, weekly goals, monthly, yearly, bi-yearly and multi-yearly goals.

Goal setting, I have found, makes all the difference in getting a writer's career from point A to point B. Small goals can lead to the accomplishment of large ones.

A beginning writer may begin in this way:

Goal 1. Do my research for my book "Turtles as Pets" by the end of month 1.

Goal 2. Write one page a day of "Turtles."

Goal 3. Complete first draft of "Turtles as Pets" six months from now.

And the list would continue as above. By setting a time frame to complete each task necessary to do the necessary research and complete the first draft, the book is written at the minimum rate of one page a day--a very doable goal for a rookie writer. How fulfilling to complete that first draft! The writer has finally written the book she's always wanted to write.

Experienced writers know the first draft is just the beginning, however. Once they've completed their first draft following some form of the above goals, they'll set new goals such as:

Goal 1. Rewrite chapters 1, 5 and 10 because they suck, they're too wordy or confusing, they are full of inconsistencies, they have weak scenes, etc.

Goal 2. Read through and look for weaknesses.

And so will go the goals until the book is in its best form.

At this point the writer will set publication goals. Once the book is published, he'll set goals for promotion--book signings, book trailers, Internet promotion of all kinds, personal appearances, press releases, etc.

The point is, an impossible project such as writing a book, having it published, and getting it into the hands of as many people as possible can be achieved by setting attainable goals the disciplined writer will follow.

Imagine what it takes to become a heart surgeon or brain surgeon. Physicians of all kinds study for years and years. These gifted men and women become doctors by setting goals. First the completion of a biology class, then anatomy, cellular biology, college, medical school, internships, and so on and so on in a process which must seem like it never will end. But those who stick by their agenda and meet their goals do reach the epitome of their hopes and dreams.

If they can do it, so can we writers. After all, as difficult as the writing business is, it can't begin to compare with that of a surgeons.

Good luck with your current project, and, if you haven't yet begun your first or next project, what's stopping you? Set some goals and get started, okay?


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, August 23, 2010

Success in Writing--What is it?

I suppose all writers have different definitions of what it means to be successful.

Some may not considered themselves successful until they earn incomes from their authorship as handsome as J.K. Rowling's, Nora Roberts's, Tom Clancey's or John Grisham's. Since mega-stardom in writing is rare, just as it is in acting or sports entertainment, such a lofty goal is extremely difficult to achieve--but certainly not impossible.

Others may consider themselves successful once a New York house publishes one of their books. This too is a lofty goal, though it is certainly more achievable than the one above.

Achieving publishing success through a small publishing house via e-book or print on demand may be the goal of a host of writers. If this goal is any easier to achieve than the New York house goal, it's only because there are many, many more publishers coming under this umbrella than under the one covering the more traditional publishers. Small or large, all publishers want quality work.

Many writers are independent thinkers, and some of these are independent authors. These folks, like independent film makers, might take the independent publication route. Once they publish their work in this way after they've striven to make it the best it can be, they will consider themselves successful.

To me, a book writer is successful once she completes her first novel or non-fiction project of book length--not when she publishes it, when she finishes it. Tons of people talk about writing a book "someday," few ever get it done. Why? Because writing a book, actually taking the time and effort to put down enough words to compose an entire book, is a huge, huge job. (And this doesn't count the research necessary before writing.) Unless a person has actually attempted a job like this, he has no idea how much work authoring a book is.

I say kudos to anyone who completes the task of writing the book and doesn't put off the job to be done "someday."


Fran Shaff, Award Winning Author

Monday, August 16, 2010

Developing Talents

My cousin, a clergyman, told me more than a decade ago, if God gives us a talent, we should develop it. I'm not sure what his exact words were, but I do remember taking what he said to mean we have a RESPONSIBILITY to develop our talents.

For me, this moment of clarity catapulted me into the writing life whole heartedly. Up to that point, I'd dabbled in writing rather than having dedicated myself to it. From that moment on, I've been writing full time, working very hard.

Yet with all the time I've devoted to learning, studying, writing, and all the other things which make up a writer's life, I wonder if I will ever develop my talent as fully as I want to. Having won multiple awards for my work doesn't mean I've reached a point where I'm satisfied with my accomplishments. There is always another goal which needs to be met, improvements to be made, another milestone to reach.

I believe each of us is given talents. Those gifts make us capable of becoming great in our own ways if we work hard enough to develop our capabilities.

Take the athlete, for example. God gives a gymnast talent, but, no matter how naturally gifted she is, she will never become a part of an Olympic team unless she dedicates her life to developing her special abilities.

I love to watch NFL football. Witnessing a perfectly executed passing play delights me because I know that, in order to achieve such perfection, those men have worked years and years to develop their talents.

A perfect play, whether it is in sports, the medical field, business, the arts or whatever, NEVER just happens. It is always the result of years of hard work and God-given talent.

It is our duty to discover our talents and develop them to the best of our abilities. We as a people benefit every time one of us succeeds at becoming the best we can be in our profession whether we are doctors, engineers, homemakers, artists, factory workers, construction workers or teachers. The world needs us all, and no one of us is any less necessary than another.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, August 9, 2010

Acceptance and Rejection

No one is immune to rejection. And all of us have experienced acceptance.

Given the choice, we'd rather be accepted than rejected, but disappointment is simply a part of everyday life.

Writers experience rejection regularly throughout their careers. So do actors, directors, artists, and anyone else who puts themselves or their work on public view to the masses.

If you put your heart and soul into creating a painting, it is almost guaranteed someone is going to hate it. But it's also quite likely someone is going to think it's the greatest work of art she's ever seen. (Yes, I'm talking about your mother--no, just kidding.)

As a writer I, like all of you creative people, have had doubts about my abilities when someone has said something negative about one of my books. It's hard to hear bad things about a project I've poured my soul into, a project I've struggled with for months or even years. (Yes, I have spent years on some books.)

What makes us REAL writers (as opposed to the dreamers who boast they are going to have a book published "someday") is our ability to shrug off rejection and continue to strive to create better and better stories. Fill in "artists" "actors" "engineers" "teachers" or whatever for "writers" and this observation is easily applied to all lines of work.

When we are rejected by our boss, an editor, etc. we need to take stock of the criticism offered, weigh it, use whatever might be helpful, then move on--forge ahead and continue with our plan to reach our goals.

The only bad writer (engineer, teacher, bowler, etc.) is the one who gives up instead of taking criticism in stride and striving to improve the quality of their work everyday.

As a writer, I realize I'm a sensitive person, empathetic, a worrier too. While these emotions can be negative in daily life (especially when dealing with rejection), they are a blessing in my professional life (when I'm not dealing with rejection).

Were I not sensitive and empathetic, how could I possibly create characters who were rich, human, vulnerable, strong, courageous?

I couldn't.

No matter what our goals are in our personal lives and our careers, we benefit most when we can take a negative (like a writer being extra sensitive to editorial rejection) and turn it into a positive (using that sensitivity to create unforgetable, touching characters).

Dare I say we should make lemonade when life hands us lemons?

No, I don't think I'll use that tired old cliche. I'll suggest we woman up or man up and do the best we can with what we have to work with.

Now, it's time I take my own advice and get back to my current work in progress.


Fran Shaff

Monday, August 2, 2010

Characters with Depth

Things which happen to us in childhood can haunt us all of our lives. They might cause us to stifle our potential, inflate our egos or live a reclusive, permissive or indulgent life. Our hearts and souls, our innermost thoughts and ideas about ourselves can be greatly influenced by our childhoods in positive and negative ways.

Characters in stories who touch something familiar in readers are the type of characters we remember.

Writers, think about this when developing your characters: What happened to John or Jane Doe which changed him/her in a most profound way? What deeply changed them and why? Answer these questions, and your character will become deeper, richer, more human than you thought he/she could be.

Take a look at this excerpt from “Stephanie’s Surprise,” the second book of my Heart Junction Series which is set in the early 20th Century.

Setup: Stephanie has just helped Dr. Aaron Wesly (who is in love with her) with an emergency medical situation. She performed unbelievably well, and he’s wondering why she quit nursing when she was young to become a teacher.

“I want you to tell me why you are so certain you should be a teacher instead of a nurse.” He sat next to her. “I’ve seen you in the classroom, and you’re a very good teacher. But in there,” he said, pointing his thumb in the direction of the room where they’d worked on Harvey, “you were perfect. You knew exactly what to do. You knew exactly what I needed.” He looked at her with an admiration she’d never seen in his eyes before. “Miss Porter, you are a nurse. Why do you deny it?”

She bolted from the sofa and went to the fireplace across the room. She stared into the empty hearth as though she were looking into the darkness of the past. “I would rather not discuss it.”

She felt him behind her, close and warm, his body heat touching her while he remained several inches away from her.

“I think you should talk about it, Miss Porter. You came alive in that room in a way I’ve never seen anyone do before. You were a part of everything that was taking place. You were made to care for, maybe even to heal people.” He paused a moment. “I think you could be a doctor, if you set your mind to it.”

She spun around to face him. “A doctor?” She folded her arms defiantly in front of her. “A doctor! Why do you insult me?” She walked away from him.

“I insulted you?”

She turned back to him. “Yes! I want nothing to do with doctors. They can’t heal everyone. Sometimes they’re completely useless.”

“And sometimes we’re very helpful. Sometimes we save lives.”

“Don’t preach high and mighty to me, Dr. Wesley. Doctors kill people, and so do nurses!” Tears began to roll down her cheeks.

“Miss Porter, what are you talking about? Why would you say such hideous things?” Shock covered his face.

She turned and headed for the door. “I’m going home.”

He caught her arm before she reached the arch of the parlor. “You’re not going anywhere. I want you to explain why you said what you said.” The grip on her arm turned from firm to gentle. “Please, Miss Porter, I must know.”

A wave of exhaustion went through her. “I need to sit down.”

He took her arm and led her back to the sofa. He sat next to her and handed her his handkerchief. “Tell me why you have such a great distaste for doctors.”

She wiped her eyes and nose. “They killed my sister.” She sobbed harder. “I…I…I killed my sister.”

He gently stroked her hair. “In a million years, you could never harm anyone,” he said softly.

When she began to cry uncontrollably, he took her into his arms. “There, there, Miss Porter. You need to get hold of yourself.”

Stephanie clung to him as though she’d die if she didn’t. She needed the comfort he offered. She needed him to hold her and comfort her and to understand how she hated herself for what she’d done.

“How did she die, Miss Porter?” he asked when she began to calm down.

She pressed her cheek into his shoulder as she tried to draw on his strength. “I took care of her the best I could, Aaron. Mama and Papa trusted me to take good care of Eileen. She was only thirteen years old. She was so sweet and so fragile.” She wiped her nose and snuggled closer to him. “I did everything Dr. Zeeman told me to do. He’d spoken with several specialists, and they’d devised a plan to treat Eileen.”

“What was wrong with her?”

She pulled back and looked up at him. “It was a disease of the blood. She’d had it for years. We all thought the treatment was working. Then Mama and Papa were called away. Grandpa Porter had passed away back in Illinois. They took a train to his funeral and left me alone to care for Eileen.”

She left the sofa. “When they returned, my sister was dead. We’d killed her, the doctors and I, we’d killed her.” She turned to look at him again. “They’d ordered the wrong treatment, or perhaps I made a mistake with her medication.” She shook her head vigorously. “I killed my sister, Aaron. Eileen is dead because of me!”

When her knees began to buckle as she wept with grief and guilt, he went to her and took her into his arms.

She struggled against his grip on her. He shouldn’t be holding her. He was a doctor! She shouldn’t be trusting him. She shouldn’t be wanting him to comfort her.

Aaron held her more firmly as she continued to struggle. “You’re wrong, Stephanie, you didn’t kill her, and I can prove it.”

When she had no more strength to struggle against him, she stopped moving. She pulled back so she could look into his eyes. “You can’t prove anything. You don’t know anything about my sister.”

“I do know about blood diseases, and they can kill people very quickly.”

“But Eileen had been sick since she was nine years old. She’d get better, then worse and better again. When Mama and Papa left, she was doing well.”

“Yes, that’s all part of the pattern for some diseases. Do you know which one she had?”

She shook her head. “No, they never told us. I don’t think the doctors knew either.”

“They probably didn’t want to discuss medical details with you. Doctors are often like that. We tell the patient only what is necessary for them to know.”

“It doesn’t matter what they did or did not tell us. Eileen couldn’t have gotten so sick so fast unless either they or I had done something wrong. I trusted them. I took care of Eileen as they’d told me to do. I was with her when she died. It had to be their fault or my fault. She’d never gotten that sick that fast before.”

He held her close to him once more and kissed the top of her head. “Dear, Stephanie, Eileen’s death was not your fault. What you described is entirely typical of some blood disorders. A patient can live for years and suddenly get very sick and die. I’ve seen it happen.”

“Oh, Aaron,” she said as tears began to stream from her eyes once more, “can what you say be true?” Dare she hope Eileen’s death was not her fault?

He pulled back from her. “Stephanie, your sister’s death was not your fault, nor was it the fault of her physicians. I can assure you of that. In fact, if Eileen survived for years with her blood disease, then I would say she’d received extremely good care, and you were blessed to have had her with you as long as you did.”

She dabbed at her eyes and wiped her nose. “But Papa and Mama said it was my fault. They said I killed her. They moved away and left me alone in Aberdeen because they couldn’t stand to look upon the girl who’d killed their daughter.”

Aaron pulled her tight against himself and gently caressed her cheek. “Dear, God, what have they done to you? No wonder you mistrust doctors. No wonder you deny your inborn gifts for medicine. I am so, so sorry for your misunderstanding, Stephanie.”

He pulled back and took her face into his hands.

“Stephanie, you have got to believe me. Eileen died because God called her home. It was her time to go, and nothing you did made that time come any faster than it was meant to be. Blood diseases are extremely serious and usually quite deadly.”

“But Papa…Mama…they told me--”

He placed his thumbs over her lips as he continued to hold her face in his hands. “Parents can be wrong, Stephanie."

What a gripping bit of information the reader learns about Stephanie. Believe me, this bit of knowledge changes the readers total perception of Stephanie Porter. Her enjoyment of the book has now deepened, and she becomes a bigger part of Stephanie's life and a major cheerleader for her success.

In a nutshell, characters with great depth greatly enhance the reader's enjoyment of any story.

And isn't that what writing is all about?


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, July 26, 2010

Making the Scene

Remembering a few basic essentials about writing scenes can be very helpful when crafting a new story.

Essential 1. Every scene needs a goal.

Essential 2. Scenes start with conflict.

Essential 3. Scenes end with conflict.

Essential 4. Scenes MUST move the story ahead.

Essential 5. Usually it's best to use only one point of view per scene.

Look for these scene essentials in this excerpt from A PARTNER'S PROMISE, my award-winning young peoples' novel. Previous to this scene, Axel, a homeless boy in 1880s New York had been in a fight. He'd been injured and unable to work to earn his food so he stole a loaf of bread. He was arrested.

Axel appeared before a judge later in the afternoon the day he was arrested.

Judge Thomas, a stern-looking man with glasses and a mostly-bald head, studied a paper as Axel stood silently before him.

“This report says you stole a loaf of bread,” Judge Thomas said, peering over the top of his glasses at Axel. “Is that right, boy? Did you steal a loaf of bread?”

“Yes, sir,” Axel said, looking down and placing his hand over his stomach.

“Speak up, boy. I can’t hear what you’re saying!” Judge Thomas shouted.

Axel raised his eyes and looked at the judge. “Yes, sir. I was very hungry.”

“Hungry, were you? That’s no excuse for breaking the law. If you want to eat, you should work for your bread. You young people must learn.” Judge Thomas stared hard at him. “What do you have to say for yourself, Mr. O’Grady?”

“I’m sorry, sir. I do work. I’m a newsie, but another boy beat up my friend and me and took our money. I have been too hurt to work. I ran out of food, and I was so hungry, sir.” Axel prayed Judge Thomas would accept his explanation and give him a chance to pay for the bread when he could work again.

“I’m not your mama, boy. Your problems are your problems, not mine,” Judge Thomas said firmly. “If you steal you go to jail. It’s as simple as that. Besides,” he added, running his gaze over Axel carefully, “if you got yourself beat up, it’s your own fault. You Irish are always causing trouble.”

Axel wanted to cause the narrow-minded judge some trouble right now, but he couldn’t. Instead, he swallowed back his anger and meekly replied, “Please, your honor, sir, please don’t send me to jail. I’ll pay for the bread.”

“I thought you didn’t have any money.”

“I don’t, but I’ll work again soon. I’ll pay for the bread when I can work again.”

“Not good enough,” the judge said, shaking his head. He looked at the papers before him. He rubbed his chin and thought a moment before he went on. “You got any folks?”

Axel shook his head. “My parents are dead.”

Judge Thomas nodded slowly. “I suspected as much,” he said, staring down at Axel over his glasses. He stroked his hand along his jaw and narrowed his focus on Axel. “Have you heard about the trains which take orphans west to be placed out in new homes?”

He not only sold newspapers, he read them too. He’d seen stories about city children finding new homes in the country. “Yes, sir, I know of them.”

The judge took off his glasses. “If you’ll agree to go to the Children’s Home and wait there to be sent west on the next train, I won’t send you to jail.”

Axel felt as though an anvil had fallen on him. Jail or leave New York City. How could he stand either one? No matter which he chose he’d have to leave Nate.

“Well, boy? What will it be?”

He decided there was only one choice he could make, and it wasn’t jail. “I’ll go to the Children’s Home, sir, and take the train west.” He spoke in a firm, decisive voice. He wanted to be sure the judge wouldn’t change his mind and put him back in jail.

“Fine,” the judge said, putting his glasses back on. He wrote something on his papers. When he finished writing he looked up at Axel and pointed his finger. “Don’t you try to run off either. If I see you in this court again you’ll go to jail for sure.” The judge turned Axel over to a police officer and told him to take the boy to the Children’s Home right away.

Scene essentials 1. While the goal is not revealed until late in the scene, it's easy to see Axel's goal is to stay out of jail.

Scene essentials 2. Conflict doesn't rise much higher than that between a judge and an accused person.

Scene essentials 3. Conflict at the end of the scene is even higher than the beginning. Though Axel has achieved his goal, staying out of jail, it has cost him his best friend.

Scene essentials 4. There is no question this scene moves the story ahead. It evokes lots of questions for readers, but the main one is: what will happen to Axel when he must leaves everything familiar and goes to a strange new land?

Scene essentials 5. The entire scene is told through Axel's point of view.

With writing as it is with many other pursuits, it is always important to remember basics.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, July 19, 2010

Free and Hugely Discounted E-Books

Thousands of readers have taken advantage of my offer of CHANGE OF HEART as a free download. (Links to get this book are below.)

During July, all of my books at are 50% off! This includes the entire Heart Junction Series and the highly acclaimed, award-winning contemporary romance STOLEN SON.

Use Coupon Code: SWS50 at checkout for the discount. To take a look and to download free previews of my books before you buy, go to:

To download CHANGE OF HEART for free go to the links below. This book is also available for the I-Pad.

Smashwords (where it is the second most downloaded romance)

Barnes and Noble

Kobo Books

Sony e-Store

I hope you're enjoying your summer reading as much as I'm enjoying mine.

Have a great week!


Fran Shaff

Read more:

Monday, July 12, 2010

Dialogue: Real Life vs Literature

Writers strive to make stories real, believable.

However, one thing we readers do not want too real in our fiction is dialogue. We want fictional conversation to be believable and to look real, but we don't want it to reflect what we actually hear in our everyday conversations.

For example, if we have two characters discussing a date which took place the previous evening, we don't want to hear two women discussing the topic the way REAL women might talk.

Let's take a look at a scene using real life conversation (in the first example) versus fictional conversation designed to look real (in the second example).

Scene, a coffee cafe, two girl friends, early 20's sitting at a table and talking:

Girl 1: You and Tony went out, didn't you?

Girl 2: Yeah, you know, he picked me up at 7, around that time, I think, maybe it was later. I don't remember exactly what time he came. I got home late from work and, like, I was rushing around, trying to get ready, looking for my gray skirt. You remember the one I got at Macy's last fall when we went shopping before Thanksgiving?

Girl 1: Oh, the one you got at that great sale? Gees, what was that, like 35% off?

Girl 2: No, it was 50% off.

Girl 1: What a deal! Did Tony like it?

Girl 2: He never said, but he did say I looked nice, so I guess he must have liked it. Anyway....

(20 minutes later)

Girl 1: So you guys went to see "Knight and Day", huh?

Girl 2: Yeah, and I think he got a little emotional at the ending. (sighs) He's sweet, you know, I think. Kinda sweet, anyway.

Girl 1: Kinda sweet?

Girl 2: (shifting uncomfortably) Yeah, he, like, sighed and smiled at the end of the movie and said he liked it, but then when he walked me to the door, he made a grab for me before he even tried to kiss me.

Girl 1: How disgusting! Some guys. You think they're all romantic and sweet, then they go and do a pig thing like that instead of just trying to give a nice little good night kiss the way they should on the first date.

Girl 2: Yeah, I hate that.

Girl 1: (sips her coffee) So, are you going to see him again soon?

Girl 2: I think, you know, like I figured, I shouldn't cut him off completely just because he did one pig thing. He is kinda cute, don't you think?
Okay, lets see if we can "literary up" this little scene--

Scene, a coffee cafe, two girl friends, early 20's sitting at a table and talking:

Girl 1: How did your date with Tony go last night?

Girl 2: Not bad.

Girl 1: Not bad, huh? Sounds good. What did you two do?

Girl 2: We went to see "Knight and Day."

Girl 1: That's a terrific date movie. I saw it last week.

Girl 2: We both loved it. Tony loved all the action, chases, crashes, and I loved the romance. Cameron's character had some really great stunts too, which I enjoyed.

Girl 1: (raising an eyebrow and grinning) What about Tony? Did he have a great stunt or two?

Girl 2: (giggling) Stunts? I guess one thing he did could be called a stunt, and it wasn't a good one.

Girl 1: What'd he do?

Girl 2: (sighing) At the end of the movie, he got really emotional, almost choked up. I thought to myself, gee, this guy is really sweet.

Girl 1: That is sweet. I loved the ending too.

Girl 2: Who wouldn't? It was perfect. However, (shifting and twisting her mouth) mine and Tony's ending wasn't sweet at all, not with the stunt he pulled. When he walked me to the door, he made a grab for me.

Girl 1: Right out of the blue? Before he even kissed you or anything?

Girl 2: Yeah. I almost slapped his face, but I didn't.

Girl 1: (drinks coffee, gives friend a tentative look) So...are you going to see him again.

Girl 2: (shrugging, smiling) Why not? He's kinda cute, don't you think?
See the difference? The "literary" dialogue is definitely believable, seems totally real too, but it isn't real enough to include all the side-tracking, uhs, you knows, likes, ahs, needless details, etc. we often use in our natural, normal conversations.

Dialogue can be tricky. Writing it so it flows smoothly while it engages the reader at the same time isn't easy, but it is doable.

Take care and have a great week!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, July 5, 2010

Happy Birthday, America

Freedom of expression, a right particularly important to writers, exists in America because men and women who have come before us have fought and died to ensure our rights.

This week, as we remember and celebrate the birth of the United States of Americas, we thank our soldiers and those great writers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution whose ideas, radical as they were at the time, have left us with unprecedented freedoms.

God bless America, and bless our citizens with the gumption we need to continue to protect our freedoms here in the United States and all over the world wherever people long for liberty.

Happy Independence Day, my fellow Americans. God bless you, one and all.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, June 28, 2010

Conflict and Tenson

Conflict and tension are essential to every story. Without them, there will be little reader/movie goer interest.

Conflict occurs when the antagonist is stronger than the protagonist, or at the very least, seems stronger.

For example, in the movie "Signs" there are two "enemies" of the Mel Gibson character, God (for allowing his wife to be killed) and the aliens who are trying to conquer the earth and destroy his family. Obviously, God, if He ever were an enemy to a human being, since He is all powerful, He would be undefeatable. Aliens capable of traveling through space would be quite threatening too. Huge conflict exists between the "good" protagonist and his enemies God, (who in reality is also good, of course) and the aliens.

Tension happens within a character or between characters when they interact.

Gibson's character experiences tremendous internal tension regarding his enemy "God". He'd been a preacher, but when his wife was killed in an accident, he completely lost his faith. Can you imagine the horrific inner conflict such a man would experience? Viewers watching the movie can identify with him because most of us have experienced betrayal by someone we love, which is what he feels has happened to him.

Palpable tension occurs in the scene where Gibson's theatrical family gathers for their last meal before they must face the showdown with the aliens. Both "enemies" pose imminent threats at this point. The children want to pray before they eat. They don't want to abandon God the way their father has, but the Gibson character's reaction borders on outrage over his children's request. Titanic tension here.

We care about these people, and we are afraid right along with them. We feel what they feel because we've all been in their shoes in some way in our lives, facing enemies, questioning faith, dealing with turning points in our lives, even confronting death.

Near the end of the show, the family faces a single alien as he holds the boy whose asthma has caused his airways to close up. They watch as the alien sprays poisonous gas into the boy's face, and the father is crushed as he watches his "enemy" God take from him another person he loves. Asthma or poisonous gas, he's sure his son will die from one or the other.

Could tension be any higher for the characters and the audience as we all watch a child die? Could conflict be greater than the child being literally in the hands of both "enemies" at the same time, God's hands and the alien's?

As you know, God is not the enemy. The asthma He has permitted in the child saves the boy's life when his airways are too closed for the poisonous gas to be effective in killing him. The father administers the life saving shot to his son which opens his airways and realizes as the boy comes back to him that God has saved him.

The true enemy is defeated, the aliens, and the preacher is reunited with God, who, he realizes, has never stopped loving him.

Conflict and tension, ooh I can feel them just thinking about "Signs." Got to LOVE stories full of tension. However, in real life, not so much.

Have a great week!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Guest Author Elaine Cantrell, Interview and an Excerpt

This is the last Saturday in June and the last of our guest interviews and excerpts. And what an exciting ending! Today we have Elaine Cantrell here to talk with us and to favor us with an excerpt from her upcoming book "Return Engagement," due for release by Whiskey Creek Press in July.

Elaine, welcome. We are thrilled to have you come for a visit. To start things off, we'd like you to tell us how you got started in your writing career.

My writing career began when I submitted a manuscript to The Timeless Love contest sponsored each year by Oak Tree Press. That book, "A New Leaf," was the 2003 contest winner and was published by Oak Tree in 2004. (Buy Link:

What an exciting way to begin a successful writing career! Could you tell us what books you have published since "A New Leaf?"

Since that time I’ve had the following books published:

Grandfather’s Legacy-All Romance Books. (available only from the author due to the death of the publisher )

Purple Heart-The Wild Rose Press-

The Welcome Inn-Wings Press-

The Best Selling Toy Of The Season-Midnight Showcase

That's a very impressive list of books! What will you be releasing next?

Return Engagement is coming in July from Whiskey Creek Press-

Which of the books you’ve had published is your favorite?

My favorite so far is Return Engagement which comes out in July from Whiskey Creek Press. That sounds a little like a sales pitch, but I absolutely fell in love with my hero whose name is Richard Lovinggood. He works for the FBI, is drop dead gorgeous, and is a little bit dangerous. He’s an Alpha male even though I usually write Beta. He’s passionate, impulsive, and brilliant, and he has the ability to love whole-heartedly with no restraint. He also has a romantic side which is always nice. I loved him so much that I’m planning a trilogy about the Lovinggoods.

I totally love the hero's name. Lovinggood is absolutely inspirational. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if your trilogy is a huge success, based on what you're telling us about "Return Engagement" and its characters.

I've got a sneaking suspicion the heroine from "Return Engagement" might be the answer to my next question, based on your description of the hero. If you could be a character in one of your books, who would it be and why?

As much as I love Elizabeth Lane, Richard Lovinggood’s romantic interest, I think I’d like to be Julianna Martin from The Welcome Inn. Julianna is smart, sassy, determined, and unquenchable. She’s also strong enough to stand up to Buck Abercrombie who bought the property she loves when the bank refused to loan her the money.

Uh-oh, looks like I was wrong, but I can understand your admiration of Julianna. She sounds like the type of heroine I enjoy meeting in a good novel.

Now that "Return Engagement" is ready for release, what project are you working on next?

I’ve finished the sequel to Return Engagement, and I’ve started a fantasy novel. So far, I’m having a lot of fun with it. It’s nice to create new worlds.

Wow, you've finished a sequel to "Return Engagement" already? Good for you. Best of luck with the fantasy novel. Creating fantasy worlds sounds complicated.

Since we're becoming more and more eager to have a peak at your books after learning a bit about them, tell us, do you have an excerpt page where readers can read multiple excerpts?

Yes, I sure do. I have them posted on my web site at

I would like to share an excerpt with you from "Return Engagement" right here and now, if that's okay.

Terrific! Go ahead.

In this part my hero and heroine have just met each other on the beach after a ten year separation during which Elizabeth (my heroine) got herself engaged to another man. They were never able to forget about each other, and they soon find that time hasn’t changed their feelings at all. I’ll give you a blurb first to help set the stage for the excerpt.


Elizabeth Lane has heard the call of the four most seductive words in the entire English language: what might have been. Would you risk everything you hold dear to find out what might have been? That’s the choice which Elizabeth has to make.

Elizabeth is lucky, for she has it all, money, fame, a satisfying career and a devoted fiancé. Her humble beginnings are all but obscured, but she isn’t the kind of woman Senator Henry Lovinggood wants for his son, Richard. Senator Lovinggood plans to make Richard the President of the United States; he’ll need a woman from a wealthy, powerful family by his side. Ten years ago he broke Richard and Elizabeth up, but this time it won’t be so easy, for Elizabeth wants to know what might have been. This time she’ll fight back, a struggle which ultimately leads to kidnapping and attempted murder and alienates her from the man of her dreams.


They rode the Ferris wheel and the tilt-a-whirl two times each. Then they went through the haunted mansion which gave Elizabeth a great chance to scream and cling to his side. She hid her face against his shoulder, savoring the male scent of him. When they left the haunted mansion, they found a place that sold cotton candy and funnel cakes. They bought a huge amount of both and devoured the sugary treats as if they’d never had anything so tasty. I shouldn’t flirt so brazenly with him, Elizabeth thought, but who cares?

She paused when they passed a shooting arcade. “Richard, you’re FBI, so I guess you’re supposed to be a good shot. Win me a stuffed animal.”

Richard groaned. “Those guns are probably all sighted wrong so you can’t win. Couldn’t I just buy you one instead?”

“No, that won’t do at all. Never mind. It’s okay if you don’t think you can do it,” she replied with no hint of a smile whatsoever. Would he try to win a prize for her or not?

“Okay, I know a challenge when I hear it.” Richard stepped up to the counter and inspected the row of guns provided by the arcade. “I’ll win you an animal if I have to stay here all night.”

The attendant, a wizened gnome of a man with a sour expression on his face, wandered over to them. “Win a prize for the lady, mister? Dollar a shot.”

“Yeah, I’ll give it a try.”

He selected the gun he wanted and shot, but he missed. “Just as I expected, the sights are off, and it pulls to the left.” He adjusted for the bad sights, aimed, and squeezed the trigger. This time he hit the target dead center.

“Hooray,” cheered Elizabeth. “I want that big white cat over there. How many does he have to hit to get it?”

“Ten in a row,” the man sourly replied.

A few minutes later Richard and Elizabeth walked away carrying the big cat with them.

Elizabeth tucked her arm through his. “This is so exciting! Nobody ever won anything for me before. You are such a good shot. I bet you’re one of the FBI’s best marksmen.” Is he blushing? thought Elizabeth. I bet it’s been a long time since a woman made him blush.

She couldn’t resist the urge to tease him. She came to a halt and looked intently into his face. “Why, Richard, are you blushing?”

The color in Richard’s face deepened. “I don’t think so. It’s just the lights.”

“Oh, yes you are! You always used to blush when I teased you. Did I embarrass you?”

Richard ducked his head, a little gesture of vulnerability that probably sent her blood pressure sky high. “All right, my face does feel a little warm” he admitted, “but no, you didn’t embarrass me. It’s… well it’s kind of nice to have you flirt with me and brag on me. I’m surprised how bad I wanted to show off and win that damn cat for you.”

“You are so sweet,” she declared, giving him a warm smile.

“I don’t believe it! Is that what I get for winning the cat? Sweet? I don’t want to be sweet.” Ignoring the crowds of people all around them, he jerked her close which made her breath leave her in a little woof. “I want to be your lover. I want you to say I’m sexy and that you want me. I can’t believe you think I’m sweet.”

Elizabeth willingly threw both discretion and Alex to the wind. What did discretion or Alex matter at a time like this? “Oh, that’s what you want, is it? I’m glad you made your intentions clear, Mr. Lovinggood.” She took a small step toward him and obligingly tilted her face upward.


Elaine, thank you so much for stopping by. I hope you'll come visit us again sometime.


Readers, thank you for welcoming Elaine Cantrell, and thank you for making June's interviews and excerpts such a rousing success.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author