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

Monday, June 21, 2010

Part Character/Part Author

A question authors are often asked is, "Are your characters based on yourself?" or "How much of 'character x' is a part of you?" or "Is 'character x' like you?"

While it is true beginning writers may take the "write what you know" advice pretty literally, to the point where they make themselves into their protagonists, experienced writers spread their wings and exercise their imaginations to create characters and story lines. When someone asks me one of the above questions I usually respond with a simple negative answer or with a comment something like, "Not really. I invented 'character x' completely."

Most often I would say my characters are composites of real and fictional people. Characters need to be real enough to appeal to readers, to be identifiable to them, but they must be intriguing enough to surpass the mundaneness of the normal, everyday life most of us lead.

Let's create a character to see how it might begin. First a name--Alvin Weidemacher. His interests--computer gaming, selling software, skateboarding. His vital statistics--24, 5'10'', curly brown hair, brown eyes, freckles, perpetually single, wears jeans and software logo tee shirts. Prefers Internet friends to real-life friends, allergic to cats and grass pollen.

You're getting a picture of Alvin already, aren't you? Does the stereotype "nerd" enter your mind? It does mine.

Now comes the creative part. Alvin isn't only a nerd, he's a nerd who makes a lot of money, a top game designer for software companies, something he considers a hobby while considering his day job selling software to be his real job. Alvin donates every dime he earns selling his game designs to two charities, one which helps children suffering from cancer and another seeking to find a cure to alzheimer's disease. His mother has alzheimer's, and he takes care of her.

Alvin's not just a nerd anymore.

Learn more about Alvin by interviewing him. Ask him any question which comes to mind. Within an hour, the writer knows Alvin very well.

Is he a protagonist worthy of his own story? Is he a bit character in another story? Or is he too dull and insignificant to be used in any story at all? Writers, it's your decision. Readers, this is one way writers may manufacture an individual you watch come to life in your novel or short story.

But then again, maybe the character you enjoy in your story is a total reflection of the author... We as readers never really know.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Saturday, June 19, 2010

We're very fortunate to have Marianne Arkins stop by today to answer a few questions and share an excerpt from one of her terrific books.

Just look at her bountiful accomplishments at her website! While you're there you've got to see her trailer for "A Change of Heart." It is one of my all-time favorite book trailers. Direct link:

Marianne has free short stories on her website too.

Now on with the interview after which we have an excerpt you're sure to love from her book, "One Love for Liv."

Readers are itching to know more about your writing accomplishments, Marianne. Could you fill us in with a few of the details please?

I have nine short stories and one novel published (8 with The Wild Rose Press, 2 with Samhain Publishing), all are available in eBook format, and the novel is in print.

If you could be one of the characters in one of your books, who would it be and why?

Frank in “One Love for Liv”. He’s just so “live in the moment” and completely uninhibited. It would be great to go through life not really caring what other people think!

Wouldn't we all love to live like that from time to time? What is your most recent book release?

It’s been a little while since I released anything new – most recently “Kitchen Matches” last year. It’s a very light-hearted romance that even Mrs. Giggles said nice things about, and was a lot of fun to write, because I had to keep getting my heroine into messes :-)

Isn't it fun to get our characters into trouble? Did you find the challenges of "Kitchen Matches" difficult to write or would you say one of your other stories was the most challenging to write?

They all have their challenges, of course, but I think the historical short stories I wrote for the vintage line over at The Wild Rose Press were the most difficult because of the research entailed. The littlest things needed research, like how to start a car built in the late 30’s, or what kind of lipstick was popular in 1945. So, I couldn’t just sit and write. I’d have to keep stopping and looking up information on the smallest details. Hopefully that’s reflected in the stories (“Don’t Fence Me In” and “Miles From You”).

Research can certainly be time consuming, especially if you keep getting side tracked like I do when the details are so fascinating. Which of the books you’ve had published is your favorite?

Probably “One Love for Liv” because it’s so unpredictable. I wrote it during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and every time I bumped up against writer’s block I looked in the NaNo “dares” forum for something to spur me on. As a result, I ended up with some eccentric characters and very unexpected scenes (even to me!)

I love eccentric characters and surprises in books I'm reading. "One Love for Liv" sounds like a great read! (Readers, wait until you read the blurb and excerpt below.) What project are you working on now?

I have a few things in the works. I’m working on a sequel to “Kitchen Matches” and a sequel to “One Love for Liv” (I felt so sorry for Geoff, I needed to give him a HEA [happily ever after]). I also have a fantasy about half done and a dozen short stories. I suspect I’m a little ADD when it comes to writing!

Sounds like you don't have much idle time. We've mentioned your website above, are there other places readers can find you on the Internet?

Yes, I have a blog at:

and I'm on Facebook:

Terrific! Where can readers buy your books?

The best place to look would be the “bookshelf” page on my website, here:

Readers can find blurbs, excerpts, and book trailers from my "bookshelf" page too.

Marianne, thank you so much for telling us about your stories and sharing some great links with us. You have an impressive website too.

Now, on with the excerpt!

One Love for Liv

By Marianne Arkins

Samhain Publishing

ISBN: 9781605040189

Buy Link Paperback:

Buy Link E-book:


Liv is out to prove her high society fiancé is cheating on her. Can she do it without breaking a nail—or falling in love with Mike the mechanic?

Olivia "Liv" Leigh, wealthy socialite and spa owner, suspects her fiancé of cheating on her, so she takes drastic steps to discover whether appearances are deceiving. And if those steps require a bit of stalking, a change of appearance, a hippo-sized dog named Spike, and sacrificing her manicure to clean house for a sexy but sloppy man whose neighbor is determined to break several of the strangest Guinness Book of World Records, why should that be a problem?

Mike, a happily single auto mechanic, is more than content sharing his bachelor pad with piles of laundry, dirty dishes, and a sneaky ferret. But when a half-crazed woman in a bad wig shows up on his doorstep, what's a nice guy to do? Why, invite her in, unknowingly help her in her search for the truth and, in the process, fall head over heels for a woman who's never been less his type.


Liv drove past the VW and parked around the corner. Nervous in these strange surroundings, she stepped out of the car. First one foot cautiously touched the pavement, then the other.

Litter dotted the sidewalk, and she sidled around a huge wad of pink chewing gum that glistened on the cement to her right, practically pulsating in the sunshine. The wooden fence beside her was covered in graffiti, mostly silly scrawls of people’s names and the objects of their affections.

With a glance over her shoulder at the beat-up sedan, she gave thanks she wasn’t driving the Miata after all. This neighborhood made her terribly uneasy, and her sweet car probably wouldn’t last an hour parked on this street.

She hurried up the sidewalk to the corner, grateful for the first time she was wearing sneakers instead of her usual pumps, and peered around to make sure Daisy wasn’t looking. Of course, she probably wouldn’t recognize Liv, but it was still good to be careful.

She trailed Daisy until the redhead turned up the walk toward the complex and moved behind some thick evergreen bushes. Liv broke into a trot, not wanting to lose her.

As Liv turned the corner, she nearly ran Daisy over. The woman had stopped to check her mail at the wall of mailboxes just outside the complex.

Liv leaped back and slipped between two parked cars, squatting down to hide for a moment until she realized she couldn’t see anything. She duck-walked up a few cars until she could lean down to peek underneath and watch Daisy’s feet to note when she moved on.

Utterly focused on the sight before her, she had no warning before the driver’s door beside her swung open, clipping her sharply on the head. She flew backward, sprawling into the street and thumping her skull on the pavement. Tires squealed nearby as a moving car whipped around her flattened body.

“What the—?” From a million miles away, a man shouted in surprise. She heard the thump of footsteps but couldn’t seem to open her eyes. “Hey, lady.” A huge, heavy hand shook her shoulder. “Are you okay?”

Something warm and wet swiped her face, both reviving and disgusting her. She kept her eyes closed and limply swatted at it. Her hand hit fur. “Ugh.”

“Spike, back off.”

Spike? What was going on? She gave a low moan and tried again to force her eyelids to obey her will, finally succeeding after a Herculean effort. A tanned face covered in five o’clock shadow and smears of black grease swam in front of her. Next to him, its neck surrounded by a studded black leather collar, sat the biggest brown dog she’d ever seen. The creature had drool suspended from its mouth and it looked as if it had swallowed a sneaker with the laces hanging out. Dear heavens, was that what had licked her?

The voice spoke again, and this time she saw the man’s lips move, though they seemed oddly out of sync with his words. The last time that had happened was when she’d seen Shoot the Piano Player in French with English subtitles.

“You don’t look so good. Maybe I should call for an ambulance or something. I whacked you pretty hard.” He touched her forehead and she tried to move away from those greasy hands. Did she have a smear on her skin?

“No, don’t call an ambulance.” Liv was dismayed at how feeble she sounded, but the last thing she needed was to draw more attention to herself. How would she explain that to Geoff or her father? “I’ll be okay. Just help me up.”

“If you’re sure.” Strong, firm hands slipped under her arms and pulled her easily to her feet. The dog leaned against her and shoved its head under her hand. She flinched at the feel of its bony, fur-covered skull even though she appreciated the support. It wasn’t enough, though, and her legs wobbled beneath her.

“Whoa there, Nelly.” The man tightened his hold and steadied her. “Maybe you should come inside and sit down for a couple of minutes. I could give you an ice pack for your head.”

Liv drew herself up to her full height, all five feet, two inches of it—damn, now she missed her three-inch heels—and declared, “I would no more go into a strange man’s house than…than…” She hated that the man only grinned and watched her sputter. She lost the little bit of strength she’d summoned and sank down onto the sidewalk. “I’ll sit on the curb. Just get your ugly dog away from me.”

“Spike? C’mon, he’s gorgeous.” He gave the monster a vigorous scratch all up and down its body. “And he’s not my dog, but don’t worry, he’s a marshmallow.”

“I don’t like dogs.” She dropped her aching head into her hands and peeked through her fingers to watch as the man dragged the dog a few feet away. Spike stared at Liv with droopy brown eyes for a couple moments before he turned and trotted into the apartment complex. Thank heavens.

“Look, you can’t sit out here by yourself. What if you have a concussion and pass out?” The man squatted beside her. “Do you live nearby? I could take you home.”

“I don’t live anywhere around here.” Heaven forbid. Liv waved off his offer with a flip of her hand. “I just need a few minutes to gather my wits.”

“I don’t feel right just leaving you here. Maybe you could go to my neighbor’s? Daisy is a pretty harmless woman—at least if you’re not a man—and from where I’m sitting, it’s obvious you’re no man.”

“Daisy?” That was impossible. What were the odds?

“Yeah.” He grasped her elbow and helped her stand again. Despite the grease and calluses, his hand was oddly gentle and comforting. “I bet you’re seeing double, and you can’t drive in that condition.”

Annoyed he was right, and interested in checking out where the competition lived, she reluctantly agreed. They walked side-by-side into the complex, each step making her head throb more.

“I’m Mike, by the way. Mike Peck.”

She looked up at him, really seeing him for the first time. He was unbelievably tall, well over six feet, and wore some kind of gray coverall that had his name embroidered on the patch affixed to the front.

She squinted at the smaller lettering above his name. Doug’s Import Auto Shop. Saved by a grease monkey. How exactly right for her day.


Marianne, thanks again for visiting with us. I hope you'll come again another time.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

Monday, June 14, 2010

Ticks and Goals

As I tried to come up with an interesting topic to blog about today, my husband said I should write about ticks. He met a few of the tiny creatures recently on a camping trip. Yuck! Not everything about the outdoors is great.

What kept niggling in my mind, though, was a problem I've seen when working with unpublished writers. Character goals. Too many times rookie writers overlook the importance of goals.

To us who have been writing a while, setting character goals is second nature. We understand there is no story without compelling characters, challenges, and goals characters set to meet the challenges presented to them.

For example, in my recent release STOLEN SON, the hero learns a year after his wife's death his son was kidnapped and the subsequent adoption was done illegally. He resolves to get to know the birth mother and, if she's a good woman, to tell her what happened to her stolen son. This character has a goal.

Character goals can and often do change throughout a story, sometimes several times. Using STOLEN SON as an example again, by the time the hero learns the birth mother is indeed a good woman who can be trusted to care for his beloved son, he's fallen in love with her. (Yes, it's a complicated, compelling story.) His goal at this point is more a wish than anything he could reasonably hope to achieve. He wants to continue a relationship with the heroine once he discloses the truth. He wishes to be able to have an in-tact family with the birth mother, their son and himself. Yet how could she possibly want anything to do with him once she learns of his connection to her kidnapped boy? (It's VERY complicated.)

Goals from popular movies/books include: A public officer vows to kill the shark terrorizing his community. (Jaws) A disinherited son resolves to get his share of the estate left to his autistic brother. (Rain Man) A woman promises she can make a man fall for her and then lose him within ten days. (How to lose a guy in 10 days)

As is seen in these examples, without the goals, there are no stories.

Goals--we need them in stories, and it doesn't hurt to have a few in life! I met one today by completing this blog.

Thanks for stopping by, and best wishes on accomplishing your goals today!

Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author