Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Writing Wednesday: Kilts, Camo & Tuxedos - Oh My! Do's and Don'ts when Writing Alpha Males



My latest romance is available for pre-sale right now with an anthology entitled HUNKS TO THE RESCUE. 15 authors and 15 hot alpha males jumping feet first into dangerous situations. The best part is that all the heroes are different, showing that alphas come in a delicious variety of flavors.

Which reminded me of this magazine column I wrote last March for CapeWomenOnline magazine for my "The Write Way" column. The magazine is currently undergoing transformation, and I'm not sure whether it'll be back up and running any time soon, but I had fun writing these tips and thought I'd share again.



When you hear the term "alpha male" you think strong and in charge. Movie images of ripped Navy SEALs or muscle-bound Highlanders might flit through your mind. Or maybe you picture the powerful billionaire CEO, intense and driven with the "A" type personality.

A for alpha.

Alpha males are a staple in literature as well as movies, and as a writer you should take time to master this stereotype (pun intended) no matter what genre you write. There's a big difference in creating a strong alpha male who might also have hidden vulnerabilities, as opposed to one who is simply a domineering jerk.

Romance author Susabelle Kelmer says, “Who wants to read about a selfish jerk? We sure wouldn't want to date or marry one! There is a difference - a true alpha male has got to have redeeming qualities, or I'm not going to be able to get into the story.”

“I've read some stories where the alpha male was such a jerk I had to put down the book,” agrees paranormal author Karilyn Bentley, who writes the Demon Huntress series. “I like them where they are strong and capable but also have feelings and are kind.”

When reading any genre of novel, we expect our heroes to be strong and stand up for what they believe, but readers also want to connect with characters on a deeper level. Even an alpha male needs something to make him vulnerable, and thus human. He can't just flex his muscles and order women around. In a mystery or tale of suspense, he can’t be right 100% of the time. And in a romance, he needs to give as good as he gets.

So as you’re working on your next manuscript, keep these ideas in mind. And make that Alpha work for our approval.

"Alpha Guidelines"
DO make sure your hero is hot, ripped and ready for anything. No, he doesn’t have to be conventionally handsome (although it helps) but he needs to have self-confidence and a certain amount of arrogance about his looks.

DON’T take that self-confidence over the top into the realm of self-obsessed. No one like a Narcissist.  

DO give him a job or a cause he can believe in, and something the reader can relate to in some way. Whether it’s a fireman who puts his life on the line, a Navy SEAL saving wounded soldiers, or a cowboy working hard to save the family ranch, readers love a man with a cause they can believe in too. The CEO who makes millions for his company just by shipping jobs overseas? Not so much. The CEO with a secret soft spot for disabled kids, who donates millions to the local children’s hospital? Swoon-worthy for sure.

DON’T make everything a cliché. Yes, there are stereotypes for good reason – those are formula characters that work. But that doesn’t mean readers aren’t looking for something fresh and new. From the alpha werewolf seeking a mate to the billionaire who marries the poor girl as part of some deal or to gain his inheritance… Yeah, overdone. The CEO who falls for his formerly shy assistant and dazzles her with fifty shades of kinky sexual situations? We’ve seen (and panned) the movie.

DON’T be afraid to try something fresh. There are all kinds of alphas out there, whether they’re in traditional alpha jobs or not. In LINGERIE WARS by Janet Elizabeth Hendersen, the hero was a former British special forces guy (okay, maybe a little cliché), who owned and ran a lingerie shop in Scotland! A twist to be sure, but it worked. Trust me.

DO give your hero a backstory that tugs at the reader’s heart. What made him the way he is today? A strong loving mom, being raised by a grandparent, childhood in an orphanage, a happy household filled with siblings, high school success or failure… try writing up a character background to see what makes the guy tick. What gives him strength? Why is he fighting for whatever it is he fights for? Eventually, some of this backstory needs to leak into your novel, to let the reader glimpse the hero’s vulnerability. If you totally understand the character and his motivations, it’s so much easier to make the reader fall in love with him.

DO make your alpha fall for the heroine for the RIGHT reasons. Loving her big boobs is NOT a good reason. Being horny is NOT a good reason. Alphas should love and respect women. Perhaps they’ve had a love ‘em and leave ‘em past, but it shouldn’t be misogynistic. Not wanting to settle down at twenty-something is a whole lot different than trying to sleep your way across Manhattan for the sheer sake of gaining notches on the bedpost and bragging about it on Twitter.

There are all sorts of alpha heroes out there, and all sorts of readers to cater to. In the end, you need to write the guy YOU would fall for, whether he owns a comic book store, a construction company or a mansion and a yacht. Alpha is alpha.

Chances are, there will be plenty of readers on that same page.


Monday, March 20, 2017

Monday Book Review: The Sapient Salesman, by Erin Wilson


The Sapient Salesman: Spinning Life into Lessons, One Tale at a Time
by Erin Wilson, Published 2015

About the Book:
The Sapient Salesman: Spinning Life into Lessons, One Tale at a Time is a collection of short stories, based on real-life events, that showcase the salesmanship − or lack there of − present in every-day interactions.

Each story uses otherwise ordinary events to bring into question the sales tactics and interpersonal philosophies we employ and [perhaps] take for granted. Through the introspection they inspire, you will discover opportunities to improve your own sales practices − both personally and professionally.
My Take:

First of all, a disclaimer. This is not my usual fiction fare. This is full-on non-fiction, and kind of self-help as well.

My day job is as a technical writer for a software-as-a-service company. I recently attended their annual sales kickoff meeting, which was held in the home office out in California. It was great to get a chance to meet so many of my coworkers face-to-face, people I'd only emailed with or spoken on the phone with. A conversation with one such co-worker led me to purchasing a copy of her book, The Sapient Salesman, which I promised to read and review for her, because you know, that's my thing. Reading and reviewing books. And yes, I gave her cash for the book because I'm an author too. These things cost money, and while I'm always happy to give books away, it always feels good when someone values my work enough to pay for it.

Except I found myself in the strange position of realizing this is not my usual genre to read by any stretch, and I'm not sure I have a good basis for comparison to write a review. The book consists of 80 short stories which are more like parables -- think Aesop's Fables for salespeople -- but with the author as the protagonist of every tale and telling the story in first person. The tales themselves are just quirky stories like any co-worker might share over beer or wine as you sit in the hotel bar, but then the author ties each one to a sales technique, or lack thereof, like Aesop did with his morals.

Before I even opened my copy, I asked if it was aimed at women - while the cover art looks a little purplish online, in my hands it's actually neon pink. The author said she didn't intend to skew to one gender or the other, she just liked the black/pink combo. I suggested maybe neon green for the second edition (if she goes that route) but after reading it, I'm not sure about that. I think it would be better to embrace the marketing to women aspect and keep the bold neon pink. Just sayin'.

Okay, so armed with that foreknowledge - here's the official review.

 *~*~*

This collection of short tales and vignettes combine self-deprecating humor with focused insight to make connections between our every day actions and the task of selling. Erin Wilson delivers bite-sized coaching lessons on understanding the sales mentality from the perspectives of both the seller and buyer.

Originally written as blog posts, the 80 stories in this book range in length from a scant 2 pages to the longest which is 6 pages (and includes an illustration.) As with most blogs, some of the "posts" are more effective than the others in tying the moral to the story, while others make a cognitive leap from their anecdote to the point the writer is trying to make. Likewise the humor levels vary from story to story, with some that are laugh-out-loud funny, to others that barely had me cracking a smile, but this kind of situational humor can be subjective. She has a sassy tone with a good command of both multi-syllabic words and slang that will resonate with readers.

While the lessons are not aimed specifically at male or female readers, I think women salespeople would probably gain the greatest insights from most of Ms. Wilson's stories, as she does have a unique viewpoint as an outspoken woman in a male-dominated industry. I'm not trying to say that male readers wouldn't benefit from her lessons about listening to what customers are saying, taking their needs and pain points into account, adjusting the sales pitch accordingly for your audience, etc. etc. My point is more that a lot of her situational humor hinges on gender in a way that's not totally obvious at first glance.

For example, one of her tales is of meeting with various salesmen to get estimates for a home project. The first salesperson won't speak to her alone until her husband is home from work, and reschedules the meeting. On the one hand, this is a lesson about making sure to schedule meetings when all the key decision makers are present. But it's also not a situation that too many male readers would be familiar with, so it may not resonate with them or feel authentic. (Contractors in general seem to have few qualms about going full throttle when pitching a husband alone.) That particular parable went on to illustrate an entirely different point, about listening to what your customer needs. As a reader, I was still with her because I could relate to the whole story, but I wonder how many male readers might get lost along the way.

On the one hand, the bite-sized stories are too short and sit and read straight through the book. On the other, reading a few here and there resonated with me and had me thinking about the points she made. Not every story is a winner, but there are enough in there to make me nod my head in agreement.

If you are in any sort of sales-related or sales-tangent position and want insight into how to look at situations from a different perspective, try picking up a copy of this book.

It's available on AMAZON and other online retailers.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Writing Wednesday: In Praise of Editors

Last week I read one of the messiest books I've actually read (meaning I didn't punt after the first chapter.) I actually liked the characters. I actually liked the storyline. I actually wanted to see how the author resolved the various conflicts she'd created.

But damn. The writing itself was quite the mess. More like a first draft in transition.

She had sentences with extra words in the middle - obvious that she'd changed direction between drafts, but no one caught the danglers. The narrator shifted into third person a few times, where most of the story was first person POV, so at some point it must've been written another way. But no one caught the odd remnants of that version. And while the bulk of the story was in the Boston area, it was unclear whether the narrator's hometown was in NH or Maine, because she referenced each, so I'm guessing that changed between drafts at some point but was never cleaned up. There were also the random misused words, the ones spellcheck can't fix because while they are real words, they are not the right words for the sentence. And don't get me started on the punctuation mishaps or the misplaced paragraph breaks.

I think the author made too many changes to this manuscript and didn't keep track of her revisions. Or have anyone else do a final read through.

This is why every author needs an editor. And needs the editor to read through more than once. It's not enough to read through a final draft on your own - you know your story. You will fill in the blanks in your mind and not notice.

For example. In my own most recent manuscript, I realized that I needed to add a sex scene before the heroine and hero find the next dead body. So I went back and added it. In the final read through, the hero is whipping his cell phone out to call 9-1-1.... except that he's now naked, where he hadn't been in the original version. So where is he whipping that phone from, his ass? Ewww...

(yes, I fixed that before submission. whew.)

If you are self-publishing, then you are paying for the editorial services on your own. And editors can be expensive. But it's worth it. I will never buy a book from that author again, despite how much I enjoyed her characters and plots.

If she's not going to take her writing seriously, why should I?

Now, who's feeling brave? Share the biggest or most embarrassing mistake your editor caught - like my cell phone in the butt cheek moment. C'mon, I know I'm not the only one who appreciates her editors.

Happy Writing!




Monday, March 13, 2017

Monday Book Review: Just in Time for Christmas, by Kim Boykin

About the Book:
Book 4 of the Lowcountry Lovers series

Nobody does Christmas like Miranda Hamilton, and now that she finally has her chance to chair Magnolia Bay's tree lighting and the cotillion, which benefits her late mother’s breast cancer foundation, this Christmas is shaping up to be the best ever. That is until her childhood nemesis Logan Mauldin buys his way on her committee and starts making plans of his own.

Logan Mauldin loves to get under Miranda's very sexy skin, and it's only fair. She's been getting under his since long before their first kiss at 13. Logan’s the last man interested in co-chairing a Christmas committee or participating in a sexy bachelor auction, but since that night he interrupted Miranda on a date and cornered her under the mistletoe, he can't stop thinking about her. Or vying for her attention and bugging the hell out of her.

Christmas cheer isn’t the only thing that heats up between the Miranda and Logan, but, thanks to a lie that is as much her fault as it is his, he loses the woman he’s loved since forever. Logan will need a Christmas miracle for Miranda to forgive him. A grand gesture to melt her heart and win her back just in time for Christmas.

The Lowcountry Lovers series
Book 1: Flirting with Forever
Book 2: She's the One
Book 3: Sweet Home Carolina
Book 4: Just in Time for Christmas
Book 5: Caught Up in You

MY TAKE:

I've been reading quite a few Southern romances lately for some reason. My parents retired to Savannah, and mom and I discovered Mary Kay Andrews soon after. I totally have a soft spot for a well mannered Southern gentleman, and the Southern ladies who can speak softly but still make everyone tow the line. I'm not a fan of damsels in distress or Southern belles, per se, but like books by authors who understand the grit of Southern women and their relationships.

I've only read this one book in the series by Kim Boykin, a Christmas gift from a friend, and I can't decide if I'm going back for more or not. But this sweet Christmas romance is set in a Southern coastal town, and features the kind of quirky characters I enjoy and the small town sensibilities important to this particular genre.

Miranda Hamilton has lived in Magnolia Bay her whole life, and now runs the B&B she inherited from her (now deceased) parents. She's a type A perfectionist, striving to have it all while hanging out with a quirky circle of feisty females and also wishing she had some special guy to share it with.

Logan Mauldin also grew up in the small town, alternately flirting and fighting with Miranda over the years. He's all grown up now, and knows that Miranda is the one he wants to spend the rest of his Christmases with, but now he needs to convince her there's no one else but her. Can he convince her of his love in time for Christmas?

As an avid reader of second chance/ last chance/ friends-to-lovers romance, I appreciate the plot, but felt the author had to work extra hard to keep her couple from falling all the way earlier in the book. Which tells me there just wasn't enough reason for them to stay apart, or at least not enough reasons that were articulated to the reader. The he said/ she said alternating viewpoints worked well, but Miranda worked a little too hard at finding excuses not to fall in love. The thing I liked best? The Southern Low-Country flair. Loved it!

If you like sweet romance with a slow-burn Southern flair, try this Christmas story. Yeah, I know spring is just around the corner, but there's always time for one more Christmas story, right?




Grab a copy on Amazon.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Friday Feature: Snow Day on Cape Cod and an #Excerpt from SAY YES

Cape Cod schools declared a snow day last night based on weather reports, not wanting to chance students navigating icy road conditions. Granted, the bulk of the storm is yet to arrive but right now it seems silly that the kids are still in bed rather than at their desks.

But yes, it does snow on Cape Cod. Sometimes quite a bit. The difficult thing is the narrow, winding roads and the rural logistics of a regional school system. I agree with the administration - better safe than sorry.

The perfectly falling snow reminded me of a scene from my Valentine novella SAY YES, one that I was all set to read at a Valentine event last month that was ironically cancelled due to a blizzard. I've included the long version here for your reading pleasure, or if you need to take a mental break from kids who are home from school for no good reason... Enjoy!

Excerpt from SAY YES:



She let out a sigh, tipping her chin up at him. “You know, Ben Phillips, for an artist, you’re actually a nice guy. And you have one of the sexiest smiles I’ve ever seen.” Bright spots of pink appeared on her cheeks as she laughed at herself. “There I go again, unable to filter that brain-to-mouth connection. I’d blame the scorpion bowl, but it’s really just me.”

He chuckled. “I like you unfiltered, Darby Malone.”

“You do?”

“Mmhmm.” He reached across the table again, taking her hand and twining his fingers with her. “I like you, Darby.”

Her lips formed the cutest little O of surprise, those hazel eyes dawning with comprehension and maybe a pinch of worry. He was beginning to understand the fascinating creature on the other side of the red vinyl booth, her fears and dreams. And he realized if he pushed too hard she might slip away. He dialed back on the emotion, returning to the light and slightly flirty tone that’d been working so well. “Hey, we both have a busy week ahead. Maybe it’s best if we get the check and call it a night. That way you won’t overdose on scorpion bowls, or my company.”

She grinned and agreed. He released her hand and signaled the waitress for the bill, worried he’d made a mistake by declaring his feelings. The smart move would be to let her settle into the idea slowly, wrap her head around the fact he wanted more than a one-day show. He’d take friendship, if that was all she could offer, but it didn’t stop him from wanting it all.

They walked to the parking lot side by side, his hands shoved deep into coat pockets, clutching at the lining to keep his fingers from reaching for her. Fat snowflakes drifted silently, a light coating of white already dusting the ground. The still air felt laced with magic, the swirling snow like pixie dust sparkling all around them. Her car sat next to his pickup truck under the streetlamp, the last two vehicles in the lot. He stopped next to her door as she unlocked the car. “This was fun,” she said, sounding sincere. “It’s my turn to pay next time.”

“I’ll hold you to that. And maybe I’ll pick a more expensive place.” He laughed when her eyes widened, her smile turning into more of a smirk. There’s that spunk. “Actually, I hear there’s a new Middle Eastern place opening on the other side of town with a fancy prix fixe menu we could try.”

She laughed out loud, shoving his shoulder playfully. “Why stop there? Let’s go all out for the hundred-dollar lobster at the Chatham Inn.”

Unable to resist, he grabbed her wrist before she could pull away and drew her in for a friendly hug, rocking her from side to side. “Only kidding. Scorpion bowls again soon?”

“Yeah, I’d like that.” Her warm breath tickled his neck, making him suddenly aware of every soft curve pressed against him. Need stirred deep inside. She stared into his face, her eyes reflecting the same longing.

Before he could stop to think, he bent his head and captured those soft lips with his own, gently tasting the sweetness he’d been dreaming about since their first meeting. Her whole body stiffened, like she might pull away, before she relaxed into the kiss, tentative, tasting, taking his breath away. He teased her lips with his tongue until she opened for him, giving herself more fully. He fell headlong into her softness, the rest of the world fading to nothingness. All that existed was her mouth, this kiss, and the feel of her body molded to his.

He slid one hand from her waist to tangle in the mess of curls above her scarf, pulling her closer, fully claiming her mouth. He felt her hand on his cheek, cupping it gently, holding him in place as her thumb stroked a trail of fire along his jawline. The pleasure intensified as she shifted against him, every nerve ending in his body hyperaware of her touch. He had no sense of time passing until the snow fell harder, melting on his cheeks, dripping down the back of his neck.

When their lips finally broke apart, both were breathless. It took him a moment to orient himself and remember where they were.

Alone in a dark parking lot, lost in a kiss.

“Wow,” she whispered, her hazel eyes shiny, tiny snowflakes sticking to her lashes and dotting her dark curls, covering her shoulders with a fine layer of white.

She looks like an angel. My own little snow angel.

He cleared his throat, trying to get a handle on the turmoil churning within, hoping she felt at least a fraction of what he experienced. His voice came out rougher than he expected, full of emotion. “Darby, I…”

She put a gentle finger across his lips, a small smile playing on those luscious lips. Her voice sounded as husky as his. “Don’t you dare apologize. I know I said it isn’t a date, but that was the most delicious kiss ever, so don’t ruin it.”

Ben’s hand still tangled in her hair, his fingers playing with the silky curls at the nape of her neck. He chuckled. “No way I’m apologizing. I’m only sorry if you’re uncomfortable with this new twist in our relationship.” He feathered light kisses along the edge of her forehead. She closed her eyes and leaned into his touch.

“Twist?” Her soft murmur sent his pulse racing.

He swallowed hard and pulled back to look in her face, memorizing each curve and angle. “I thought I could do this, but obviously I can’t. We can’t be friends any more, Darby.”

Her eyes widened, her voice a whisper. “Why?”

“Because I want more. I want more dates, more kisses, more time with you in my arms. I can’t go back to being your friend when I want to move forward.” Her cheeks flushed, but since she didn’t pull away or run screaming, it gave Ben hope that maybe there was a chance. When she started to smile, the knot in his chest tightened. So beautiful.

“With kisses like that, how can I say no?” Her words teased, and her smile invited. He couldn’t resist claiming her mouth for another intoxicating kiss. A little moan rose from deep in her throat, and the knot twisted tighter still, his heart aching with need, his mouth hot on hers. Again they were breathless when they came up for air.

She inhaled deeply, opening her eyes. “But like I said earlier, I don’t have much luck dating artists.”

Her words were like tiny daggers stabbing at his hopes. Even though she hadn’t moved, he felt her slipping away, convincing herself to stop before they even started. He pressed his case, pulling her closer.

“I’m not like the other artists you dated. I’m not interested in fame or the trappings of success. I’ve already been on that rollercoaster. I want something real, and I want someone to share it with. I’ve been lonely for too long. I think you have, too.”

Her eyes glistened under the streetlight, her face filled with uncertainty. The snow continued to swirl around them. “Ben, I don’t know…”

He silenced her objections with another kiss, warm and gentle, filled with the same hope and longing as his words. Her resistance melted and she kissed him back, becoming more insistent, her hands clutching his shoulders to pull him tight. She ended the kiss and pushed him away, wriggling out of his embrace, her face looked more confused than ever. She kept her hands on his shoulders, her elbows locked while she held him at arm’s length. She closed her eyes and shook her head. “I can’t kiss you and think clearly at the same time.”

He knew just what she meant, his head still spinning from that last kiss. The chemistry between them felt irresistible—so why was she still trying to deny it? “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

The grimace on her face told him the answer. “Not thinking is what gets me into trouble. Every time.”


* ~ * ~ *
Grab a copy on Amazon for $1.99 and read the full story.