Layer Cake: How to Bake the Best Book

Okay, in case you haven’t figured it out, I’m a huge Suzanne Collins fan. From a readers perspective, Hunger Games was a story that rocked my world because it was unlike anything I’d read. A compelling heroine, who I was rooting for from page one. A setting that sparked my imagination. A plot that held my interest . . . for three books!

From a writer’s perspective, wow, she still rocks.

I’m revising a manuscript, and as I do so, a mental checklist is slowly being applied. It’s a technique I use in my 5th grade writing class, where students go through their writing and make sure they’re using similes or alliteration, etc.

My students loved the Hunger Games as well. So, in today’s post, I thought I’d share with you a discussion our class had about writing. How Suzanne Collins layered her story, and ways we, as writers, can add depth to our plots.

I know you might be thinking, come on already, you’re blogging about a 5th grade writing lesson. But keep reading, you might be surprised by what you know, and don’t know.

Come on! Get Your Will Ferrell On

Deconstructing Sentences: The Will Ferrell Effect


Imagine sitting in an auditorium and listening to a lecture on macroeconomics. The professor is going on and on about consumerism. How Americans buy more than they produce. On, and on, and on. The monotony of the professor’s voice sounds like a Maharishi’s mantra, lulling you toward a deep, blissful sleep. On, and on, and on. To the point where your numbed mind begins to wonder if investing money in this class–along with your 400 other fellow American, college student, consumer, investors . . . yep, the same ones nodding off next to you—was a bad idea.

Now, take this same scenario and pretend the professor is . . . Tom Hardy. (Sorry, I’m still in my dream state at the macroeconomics class.) Okay, I’m keeping Tommy for myself. How about . . . Will Ferrell?

Thirteen Writing Resources for 2013

The year 2013 is well under way. I’ve decided to repeat one of my most popular posts, pay it forward once again, and share with you a dozen plus one lessons and resources from my arsenal of tools. Hopefully, you’ll find something useful for your own writing.

Thirteen may just prove to be the luckiest year yet—if you’re a believer, like me. I’m certainly wishing you a wonderful, belated 2013.


Thirteen Writing Resources for 2013

Critique partners unite 

Ever feel like you are so caught up in revising your story that you can’t hear your characters anymore?

There are so many advantages to collaborating with critique partners who understand your voice and let you fly, but give you honest feedback when you’ve gotten into writer-gone-wild mode. Yes, it’s helpful when someone points out poor word choice or incomplete sentences but set your expectations higher when working with someone else’s manuscript and visa versa. The real challenge is in making your story sing, both beautifully and loud enough to draw attention to it. And, when your characters world gets murky and their voices sound flat, the value of good critique partners is immeasurable.

Romantic Moment

You might imagine writing a post about your favorite romantic moment to be an easy task for a romance writer.

Not so. Why?

It is a daunting task selecting just one. Every story has some element of romance. The beautiful, magical connection between characters is what is so compelling to readers/viewers. It is why we care what happens to our hero and heroine. The emotional struggle within a character as he or she grapples with their desires; the moment an author’s words resonate so deeply inside you it makes you laugh, or cry; the sigh of relief when our hearts—and those of the characters we care so deeply about—are spared. That is what I love in storytelling. That is what I find romantic, too.

The Oscar nominated movie, Silver Linings Playbook, based on the book by a High School English teacher, Matthew Quick, touched me in such a way.

Advice for Understanding the New Age in Publishing and Promotion

Sarah Wendell, the creator and blogger extraordinaire from the site Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, offered an extremely insightful presentation on future trends in the romance market at the monthly New Jersey Romance Writers meeting.

I hope my interpretation of our meeting might help writers gain insight into the evolving, complex world of publishing. I suggest you visit Sarah’s site, for more information—and to check out the plethora of interesting articles, reviews, and laugh-out-loud comments posted regularly.

Glitter Girl Part Two

Dear Readers,

Wow! A year has come and gone and the Violet Femmes are stronger than ever. We’re quickly approaching our 10,000 views mark, so THANK YOU for your checking in with us weekly.

Some other statistics about the Violet Femmes:

Jaye’s blog When Disaster Strikes in November drew quite a bit of attention. Living through Super Storm Sandy (and still feeling the after affects), it’s no wonder our readers connected with Jaye’s heartfelt essay.

Readers enjoyed February’s Castle of Dreams, our first round robin story, so much so we decided to write another this month!

The Violet Femmes go global: Aside from our loyal followers in the United States, we’ve had viewers from Canada, England, Australia, France, Denmark, the Philippines, to name a few countries. Bien Venue!

Snippet #1: Octagon Girl

Dear Reader,

More exciting news coming in October, in celebration of the Violet Femmes 1st Anniversary!  Did someone say contest?  With a great giveaway? And a fabulous blog make over? And how our unofficial Femme has joined us, rounding us into a quintet of writers just in time for our second year?  Keep checking back for additional information.

This month, as the Violet Femmes  prepare for the New Jersey Romance Writers conference, we thought readers might enjoy snippets from our current works in progress. Remember, you’ll have five short scenes by each Femme  for your reading pleasure.




Snippet #1:  OCTAGON GIRL by Michele Mannon

In this mixed-martial arts romance, notorious ex-ballerina Logan Rettino finds that hanging up her ballet slippers for a ring card takes some getting used to—especially with six feet two of ripped, brooding, oh-so-tempting welterweight standing between her and her plans.

The mass of bodies on the ramp parted.

Logan fell silent at the sight of the fighter. Shirtless and sweaty, the planes of his abdomen flexed as he moved. A sculpted mass of chest, sprinkled with dampened hair, rose and fell with each rapid breath.

His biceps tightened, drawing her attention, as he wiped a grey towel through short, cropped hair. An errant bead of sweat escaped and journeyed across a sharp cheekbone to pool onto lush lips.  With the back of his hand, he wiped it away.

Logan froze as awareness of his imminent proximity made her pulse race. Too late, she realized her mistake. She was standing smack in the middle of the ramp. And the fighter stalking toward her seemed preoccupied with drying himself off.

Suddenly, she felt so small. Fragile, even. Though not small enough to get out of the way of the raging bull bearing down on her.

She blinked as he abruptly halted in front of her.

He looked up through long, wet lashes and narrowed crystal blue eyes at her. With a final swipe of the towel to his head, the fighter bunched it up in his fist.

The grey ball was sent hurling in the air, spiraled once, and hit her boss square in the face.

Jerry sputtered, and swatted away the offensive material.

How could she forget her boss, rooted in place next to her in the aisle? Yet it was the indignant expression on his face that was a keeper.

Perhaps it was the long build up of tension from this problematic year, or perhaps it was the nervous flutter in her chest at her undeniable attraction to the fighter, whatever it was, Logan did the unthinkable—she laughed.

Jerry sputtered some more, this time turning a bright shade of red. Raging red. Blood hungry red.

She took a step away from him, inadvertently closer to the fighter. An uncomfortable moment lingered where she fell under the scrutiny of both men. One furious, and the other full of . . . intent. Watchful. Unreadable.

The welterweight’s gaze felt like a caress as it lowered to her chest, then downward to her exposed stomach, pink short-shorts, long expanse of leg, and hesitated on her pink Nikes. Until it shifted to her forearm, and he scowled.

She jumped as two fingers lightly caressed her arm, running across the reddened fingerprint marks Jerry had made. For a split second, something flickered across his pale blue eyes before they narrowed on her boss.

“That’s it. I’m done. My final fight. Meet me in the locker room in twenty—you owe me some money.”  The fighter’s voice was low and husky, and deadly serious.

The touch of his hands at her waist sent a jolt of excitement through her. Easily, with no effort at all, he lifted her and moved her around. Gently, he set her on her feet, off to the side and out of his way.

“What do you mean, you’re done?” Jerry squeaked, finding his voice as the fighter brushed past him. “You can’t just come in here, win one lousy fight, and disappear.”

The fighter grunted and stalked off up the ramp.


OCTAGON GIRL is a finalist in the New Jersey Romance Writers Put Your Heart in a Book contest, as well as the Sheila and the Catherine.

Writing a Perfect Pitch

Your manuscript has been reread so many times you’re cross-eyed. You think it’s time to put away the polish and let your work shine, so you register for a conference, like New Jersey Romance Writer’s “Put Your Heart In A Book”—and if you haven’t, here’s the link:

But the sigh of relief you feel upon completing a manuscript is fleeting. Because now comes the panic, when you must flick the switch in your brain from a creative, oh-let-me-try-that mode to a hard-sell this-is-what-readers-want-to-read mode.

It’s time for business. It’s time to perfect your pitch.

I’d like to share with you a compilation of advice gathered over the past few years. Though I have enough notes to write a small chapter book, here are some tools I’ve found useful when perfecting my pitches. My suggestion is to select what works best for you, and make it your own.

Good luck!


Consider using a brief personal anecdote as a hook. At NJRW’s Michael Hauge workshop, he modeled this technique with a few opening lines about his troubled childhood as a lead into his pitch. It was an anecdote everyone sympathized with, which made his pitch seem like a story everyone could identify with. And, he lied! The anecdote was a complete fabrication and a simple ruse to catch the audience’s attention (and in turn, an editor/agent).

Suggestion:  Focus on something in your life, however minor, that your character might have to deal with. For example, falling off a curb at an Italian Ice venue—a crowded one—and breaking your ankle. After you share the anecdote, lead into your pitch with: “So, it made me wonder about” or “Imagine a heroine who broke her ankle, a career-ending injury . . .”

Remember, you want to reflect the tone of your book in your pitch.

Finally, it is a great way to break the ice. You’ve established a dialogue with your target editor/agent, with a purpose—selling your manuscript.


Use the anecdote to lead into the Title, Target Market, Completed Word Count. This will signal the editor/agent that you’re about to share the heart of your story, and that you’re pitch isn’t a rambling self-indulgent mess! They are expecting this information.

Body of Pitch

In your pitch, you want to answer these questions:  Who is the protagonist? What choice does he/she face? What are the consequences of the choice?

Kimberly Killion offers this template, which can be helpful when flushing out a concept for a story, as well as for formatting the bones of a pitch.


When an editor or agent asks, “Tell me in one or two sentences about your story”, this template is the bare bones of it. You can add a bit more detail and flesh out the bones, but make sure the information is important to theme, characterization, goal, motivation, or resolution.


You want to establish within the body of your pitch that you’re not just anybody. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

What I mean is you want to place the seed in the agent/editor’s head about how to position your book. Give them a selling tool. Why does it have mass-market appeal or why does it fit a certain category line.

The simplest way of doing this is compare your manuscript to current published works or movies. In my True Blood meets Modern Family-toned paranormal romance . . . (Wouldn’t that make an interesting story—or compilation of stories?)

Remember:  Make sure what current movies/television shows/books you refer to is reflected in your writing. Imagine instead of True Blood meets Modern Family, it’s True Blood meets The Flintstones.  What a horrible surprise!

In Kerri Nelson’s Pitching Your Novel class, she suggest ending with a line incorporating the theme of your story. Keep it short. “Veronica learns that sometimes a lie is the only way to learn the truth.”

The next step

Most resources I’ve gathered suggest you initiate the next step . . . “I hope you’ll consider me for representation” or “I’d be glad to send you my manuscript . . .”  However, I’ve never had to conclude a pitch. Agents and editors will prompt you with questions and concerns. You don’t have a lot of time with them. So usually what happens is they’ll end the pitch by asking if there’s anything else you’d like to tell them, or some other key phrase letting you know you’re time is up. They will request a partial or full if they want your manuscript.

Make sure you understand what they are asking for.  A partial manuscript is the Chapters 1-3. Some editors/agents might ask for the first 20 pages, or first 50 pages. If you are lucky, they will ask for a full.  Find out how they prefer submissions—usually an e:mail in Word, with a blurb reminding them what you’re manuscript is about. Get their business card, and write this information on the back.

Useful Tips

  • Do your homework. Know what the editor and/or agent is acquiring and who they represent/publish. Information can be found in the market updates of Romance Writer’s Report, The Writer’s Market, and on the agent or publisher websites.

How does your manuscript fit into this?

  • Think and write out a career strategy: where you are now, where you want to be in five years.

Be prepared. Editors and agents want to know your career goals. Often they will ask what else you have written or are working on.  They might request blurbs on the next two books to be sent along with your requested manuscript.

Do you have ideas for a series based on your manuscript?  What other books are you writing or developing?

  • Type, cut, and paste your pitch on index cards. Number them. Highlight words you’d like to stress, especially main plot point, etc.  You might want an additional index card with one or two sentences describing the heart of your book.
  •  Practice, practice, practice. You’ll use the cards to practice your pitch until they become more of a guide than a crutch. Even though having them in your hand might give you a sense of comfort, be prepared enough to pitch without them.

During your appointment, the use of index cards is acceptable, but you want to refrain from reading them directly (see warning below). Make eye contact and smile. Keep the editor/agent engaged.

Keep it brief as the appointment is only eight to ten minutes long, and you want to leave time for discussion.

WARNING:  Do not depend on the index cards. You know your story, so make sure you have it simplified in your head. I had an editor tell me “I’d rather you tell me about your story than read from cards.”  Fortunately, I was prepared (and thus confident)  and slid them back into my bag.

So, are you ready to find representation and to sell your manuscript?

Writing is subjective and, having taken numerous pitching classes, I’ve discovered the format of a pitch varies as well.  My advice is to find a format that works for you.

Please feel free to comment and give additional strategies and advice on writing a pitch.

The Olympics and Sports-Themed Romance

THE WINNER OF THE VIOLET FEMMES JULY GIVEAWAY IS:    ROSEANN DEFRANCO.  Please send Michele an e:mail regarding your win – three books of your choice!




What Olympian stands six feet two, has eight pack abs you can bounce a quarter off of, and nudged Michael Phelps out of his first win this Olympics? If you haven’t guessed who I’m referring to (hey, there are so many Olympians who fit this description!), I’m talking about swimmer Ryan Lochte.

Outstanding physical feats both in and out of the pool dominate the 2012 London Olympics. Newly hatched American heroes have emerged, setting the bar higher and higher for future generations. Successful acts of strength and perseverance abound, such as Ryan Lochte’s win in the 400 meter individual medley.

In honor of the 2012 London Olympics, today’s blog is a review of my top five favorite sports-themed romances. None have an Olympian hero/heroine but I think you’ll discover heroes that rival Ryan Lochte in physique and heroines that you’d gladly step into their heels.

Body Check by Deidre Martin

Publicist Janna MacNeil sets out to transform the naughty reputation of the New York Blades hockey team, and soon discovers success will only be achieved by first reforming their ring-leader, bad-boy team captain Ty Gallagher.

But Ty stubbornly refuses to change. The ice heats up from the sparks set off between their battles, and growing attraction.

This debut book has all the elements of a successful sports-themed novel. For readers who don’t know much about hockey, the author gently leads you into this world of hunky, battle-worn guys who tend to be slightly superstitious, and who play for the love of the game rather than public opinion.

The chemistry between the two characters sizzles.

Body Check will keep you in check from the first page to last.

True Love and Other Disasters by Rachel Gibson

Former exotic dancer, Playboy model, and widow Faith Duffy inherits her 81 year old husband’s Seattle Chinooks hockey team, but not without controversy.

She decides to keep the team but has her work cut out for her, given the fact her centerfold still graces the locker room and that, not only has team captain Ty Savage seen it, he resents her from the get-go.

The press has a field day with comments made between the hero and heroine; how she’s a gold digger, and he’s trouble.

Rachel Gibson’s Chinook inspired novels are sports-themed romance classics. This one is my favorite because I love the characterizations—after all, who else has a former stripper as a heroine (and one that the reader simply adores)?

True Love and Other Disasters is a perfect score.

Slow Heat by Jill Shalvis

Publicist Samantha McNead is in damage control mode. She must clean up The Heat’s reputation or the baseball team will lose lucrative corporate endorsements. Her biggest challenge is Wade O’Riley, and toning down his playboy lifestyle.

Samantha pretends to be Wade’s girlfriend—The Heat’s owner and her father insist. To complicate matters, she has a history with Wade, something about monkey sex in an elevator. An act she vows not to repeat.

Jill Shalvis writes one of the best opening scenes in this novel. Right away, the reader knows Wade is going to be a sexy handful, and Samantha is going to have to focus on her job and not him. Great characterization set within the world of baseball and celebrity.

Slow Heat is home run for readers.

The Perfect Play by Jaci Burton
Event planner and single mom, Tara Lincoln, lands the dream job of planning a summer party for NFL team the San Francisco Sabers. What she doesn’t plan for is that star quarterback Mick Riley’s unexpected interest in her. A wonderful night ensues but Tara avoids further commitments. After all, raising a teenager takes up most of her time.

Mick wants her. She’s normal and a welcome change. She becomes the first woman he sees a future with. Now he has to convince her of it.

I bought this book because of the smoking hot cover. Yep, didn’t even read the first few paragraphs like I often do.

Jaci Burton knows how to write spicy sex scenes, and with a hero like Mick, she delves into every woman’s fantasy of being pursued and wanted by a famous, gorgeous, and all-around great guy.

The Perfect Play scores the perfect touchdown on a summer night.

It Had To Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Sexy bombshell Phoebe Somerville inherits the Chicago Stars football team but with one stipulation: if they lose once this season, ownership will transfer to her rascal of a cousin. Fortunately, she hires an experience General Manager—knowing nothing about football herself.

Head coach and ultra jock Dan Calebo is skeptical of the beautiful, stubborn bimbo and challenges her every decision. And soon, the championship isn’t the only thing that ties them together.

It Had To Be You is the crème de la crème of the sports-themes romances. It has everything, from a quirky, stubborn, and loveable heroine, to a sexy jock, and with the feeling of what the world of football is all about without it being overwhelming to the reader.

If you are going to pick up a sports-themed romance for the first time, this is the book. Pass complete!

So, have I made you a fan of sports-themed romance? I wonder if any swimmers—like Ryan Lochte—might appear in the next novel? Hmm.

Or better yet, a female athlete/heroine!

I hope you are enjoying the Olympics, as well.



All It Took Was A Book

AND THE JUNE CONTEST WINNER IS:   RoseAnn DeFranco!   Please send Jaye an e:mail offline to claim your Hugh Jackman prize!

Reminder:  Please comment for the month of JULY for your chance of winning a trio of books!


This month, the Violet Femmes will be answering the question:

What was the first romance book that changed your life?

Violet Femme:  Michele

This was a challenging question to address because so many books have influenced me as a reader and as a writer. Summers spent lathered in suntan lotion, sitting out on the family deck, sipping ice tea, and reading have added quite a plethora of novels I’ve grown to love.

Sigh. So many to choose from.  If I’d responded to this question in the late 1980’s, my response would have been The Wolf and The Dove by Kathleen Woodiwiss. I’ve read this novel so many times the pages are frayed and the cover is gone.

But the book that stands out in my mind as the one is Judith McNaught’s A Kingdom of Dreams.

A Kingdom of Dreams is a story about a feisty, Scottish heroine, Jennifer Merrick, who is abducted from her convent school by an English warrior, Royce Westmoreland, Duke of Claymore, known by his enemies as “The Wolf”.

Jennifer Merrick is the best heroine ever to grace the pages of romance and the reader immediately adores her within the first few pages. The story opens with her having a conversation with God, promising to “never be willful or impulsive again.”  And God answers—dubiously. Jennifer has no business being in a convent but her father banishes her from home since her stepbrother had “circulated his horrible tale.”

Royce “The Wolf” Westmoreland is feared by all. King Henry had him fighting the Scottish in Cornwall, England and rumors circulate about his malevolence. More evil than the devil himself, Scottish children are told “the Wolf will get you” if they don’t behave. To please him, Royce’s brother kidnaps their enemy’s two daughters, Jennifer and her stepsister, and dump them—surprise—into Royce’s encampment.

The story grabs the reader and pulls her eagerly along after that.

“Jennifer was a Merrick, and a Merrick never admitted to fear of any man.”  Placed within the company of The Wolf, Jennifer not only holds steadfast to her sense of self, but she does everything possible to escape him and make her clan proud. She creates havoc with Royce’s clothing, outwits his soldiers, and steals his prized horse.

Royce has never encountered someone so . . . daring. Between his rage for her, he begins to like Jennifer for her beauty and for herself. He comes to want her like no other woman before. Sure, he has his moments where he strikes terror in the hearts of men, and is displeased with Jennifer. This hero is ferocious yet has a heart.

Aside from two wonderfully rich characters, what I love about this book is how the author incorporates poignant, reflective moments into their romance. Jennifer describes inventing of a Kingdom of Dreams, where she’s regarded by her clan in a more loving, and more heroic, light. And Royce empathizes with her, and loves her more for the shadows from her past. In these moments, the two characters grow and discover the essence of each other hidden beneath the roles that they play. This is the key to this superbly written romance, which still stands the test of time.

I you haven’t read A Kingdom of Dreams, you are missing out on one of my favorite books of all time.  I highly recommend you it. Happy reading,

Violet Femme Michele

Judith McNaught

              A Kingdom of Dreams


Here are a few additional authors who have also had a huge influence on me from an early age. I focused on authors from years past; there are numerous authors from the 1990’s to present that I’ll share with you on a future post!   

Rebecca Brandewyne

             Love, Cherish Me

Shirlee Busbee

              While Passion Sleeps

Johanna Lindsey

             Gentle Rouge

              Tender Rebel

Karen Robards

             Loving Julia

Rosemary Rogers

             The Wildest Heart


These two authors are my early favorites:

 Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

           *The Wolf and The Dove

             A Rose in Winter

Judith McNaught

             Whitney, My Love

Almost Heaven

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