Two Fantastic Classes from RWASD!

Feburary is fast approaching and so are some new classes to help you stretch your writing muscles. Be sure take advantage of your RWASD membership and get that discounted rate. Classes are open to non-members as well so even if you’re not a member yet, you can still participate.

Take a look at what we have to offer!

To register for any of our classes, head on over to


Self-Publishing 101 for the Confused and Terrified

Date: February 128th, 2016

Instructor: Kitty Bucholtz

Cost: RWA San Diego Chapter members: $20 Non-members: $25

Interested in self-publishing but terrified you won’t be able to learn all the steps? Willing to learn new things but confused about where to begin? If your answer is a resounding “Yes!” then Self-Publishing 101 for the Confused and Terrified is the class for you.

Kitty will walk you through the process, from how to start your business to how to get your book up for sale to how to promote yourself and your work. You’ll learn about the business side including tax issues, how to find a cover designer or how to create a cover yourself, how to double- and triple-check your work for errors before publishing, and the least complicated way to create an ebook and upload it to the most retailers. By the end of the class, you will know if this is the path you want to take and, if so, how to make it happen in 2016!

Bio: Kitty Bucholtz writes superhero urban fantasy and romantic comedy, often with an inspirational element woven in. After she earned her MA in Creative Writing, she decided to become a writer-turned-independent-publisher, forming Daydreamer Entertainment and self-publishing her first novel in late 2011. She loves to teach writing workshops online and in person, and she’s the founder of Writer Entrepreneur Guides and the WRITE NOW! Workshop.


Developing Stronger Characters through Journaling

Date: February 821st, 2016

Instructor: Catherine Chant

Cost: RWA San Diego Chapter members: $15 Non-members: $20

While exciting events in a book may entertain you, it’s really the characters that grab the your attention and hold it on the page. Strong characters pull you in and keep you invested in the story, turning those pages. Creating a strong character comes from understanding who this imaginary person is inside and out, not just on the surface, and conveying that to the reader. Journaling is a fun way to dig deep enough below the surface to unlock your character’s hidden secrets and bring that character alive on the page.

At the end of this workshop, you will have a better understanding of what makes your main character tick, what drives your character through the story, and how conflict affects character growth and change. You’ll get inside your character’s deepest thoughts and fears to discover what’s missing from his/her life and how to use this to drive your story’s plot to a satisfying conclusion.

The workshop includes exercises with every lesson designed to strengthen the concepts discussed, including several short writing exercises.


Bio: Catherine Chant is an active member of the Romance Writers of America (RWA) and a Golden Heart® finalist. She worked for fifteen years at Boston College as a computing & communications consultant before becoming a full-time writer and online educator. She is the author of a rock ‘n’ roll time travel series, available at Amazon and other online retailers. She has also written two Vampire Diaries novellas for Amazon’s Kindle Worlds program, and is working on the next young adult novel in her Soul Mates series. She teaches several online workshops for writers throughout the year. You can learn more at



June Meeting Roundup + Good News

We had a fantastic June meeting with guest speaker, Sara Megibow. Sara is a literary agent at KT Literary where specializes in working with authors in middle grade, young adult, new adult, romance, erotica, science fiction and fantasy. In her inspiring and hilarious talk she told us all about what her job entails. Ten percent of that job involves networking, reading queries, and asking authors for representation. The other ninety percent is all about getting deals for her authors, negotiating those deals, and strategizing for her clients.  Sarah emphasised the importance of format (what  format you release your novel in), distribution (what markets will carry your novel), and subsidiary rights (beyond the novel in audio books and film) in getting a good deal with a publisher.

Awesome swag from some RWASD authors!

Awesome swag from some RWASD authors!

After lunch and a quick Q and A with Sara, it was on to a round of “Speed Dating” with members of our chapter. Linda Thomas-Sundstrom, Cassie Carver, Georgie Lee, Jillian Stone, Lisa Kessler, HelenKay Dimon, and Kitty Bucholtz gave us ten minutes of their expertise on various topics such as, how to be a healthy writer, how to write like a po et, making memorable characters, creating chapter hooks,staying persistent, plotting, and restarting yourself.

Linda Thomas-Sundstrom demonstrates uses for a foam roller.

Linda Thomas-Sundstrom demonstrates uses for a foam roller.

Kitty Bucholtz speaks on restarting yourself.

Kitty Bucholtz speaks on restarting yourself.

Our Atta Girl award went to Jackie Allen for writing through her grief over losing her writing partner and friend, Terry Blain.

The Member of the Month is Jillian Stone for working hard to keep our PALs program entertaining.
Member of the month Jillian Stone (right) with RWASD Vice-President Tameri Etherton.

Member of the month Jillian Stone (right) with RWASD Vice-President Tameri Etherton.

 On to my favorite part of our meeting, our Good News!
  • Laura Connors published The Feast, an erotic short story.
  • Tameri Etherton won the San Diego Book Award for Best Published Fantasy for The Stones of Kaldaar. She is also a finalist in the FF&P’s PRISMs contest with The Stones of Kaldaar.
  • Lisa Kessler is a finalist on the FF&P PRISMs award for Best Novella with Night Angel. She’s also a finalist in the Award of Excellence Co. Romance Writers contest in the Best Paranormal category for Blood Moon.
  • Rick Ochocki earned his RWA Pro pin.
  •  Deborah Reed was a finalist in the Best Published General Fiction category of the San Diego Book Awards, along with her co-author Lisa Shapiro, for their novel, The Chamber and The Cross.
  •  Bob Richard (RW Richard) was a finalist in the Best Published Romance category of the San Diego Book Awards for his novel, A More Perfect Union.
  •  Janet Tait was a finalist in the Best Published Fantasy category of the San Diego Book Awards for her novel, Cast Into Darkness.
  •  Karri Thompson won the San Diego Book Award for Best Published YA novel with Mirror X.

Our winner for June’s Write for the Money is Kristin Rockaway. Congratulations, Kristin! Remember, if you signed up for our next Write for the Money, you have two months instead of one to complete your tasks.

That’s all for the meeting recap. We’ll see you all next time at the August potluck!





Upcoming Classes at RWASD!

We have some amazing classes coming up in the next two months through RWASD. It’s a perfect time to register and take advantage of the fantastic knowledge at your fingertips. I know I’ll be registering for a few.

Check out the four upcoming classes we are offering!

Medicine Before 1840: What you need to know to heal or kill your characters

Date: June 128, 2015

Instructor: Georgie Lee

Cost: RWA San Diego Chapter members: $20 Non-members: $25

Open to: All

Please register at

Radical changes in medicine in the mid 19th century changed the way people dealt with wounds and diseases and helped usher in the age of modern medicine. Before this time, centuries of habit, ancient texts, a lack of understanding about hygiene, germ theory, anatomy and illness dominated treatment and the training of doctors and surgeons.

This class will also offer insight into past medical practices as well as when certain medical techniques and ideas first emerged and could therefore be plausible in a story. We’ll also explore infectious disease, wounds and battlefield medicine using both firsthand accounts and contemporary sources.


A lifelong history buff, award winning author Georgie Lee hasn’t given up hope that she will one day inherit a title and a manor house. Until then, she fulfills her dreams of lords, ladies and a season in London through her stories. When not writing, she can be found reading non-fiction history or watching any movie with a costume and an accent. You can connect with her at


Scrivener for Writers

Date: June 1-30, 2015

Instructor: Patrick Haggerty

Cost: RWA San Diego Chapter members: $20 Non-members: $25

Open to: All

Please register at

As writers, we’ve all spent time hunched over a keyboard trying to get our thoughts into some word processor. Word processors such as Word and Pages work ok when it comes to writing fiction but their focus is much more on processing your words (layout, font, headers, footers, etc) than on the creative process. Enter Scrivener.

Scrivener is the premier application for the creation of novels, novellas, and like works. It allows you to write your story the way you want and helps you integrate your research, planning, writing, etc. all into one tool. This course will teach you, the writer, how to best use Scrivener for everything from planning your scenes to generating output for your publisher.

Lectures will be presented using recorded videos so you can hear and see as your instructor explains and demonstrates everything you need to become effective with Scrivener. Each lecture will be announced through the email list and will be accompanied by a brief timeline. Students will then be able to use the same forms/list to ask questions, discuss lectures, etc.


After a failed attempt at college and four years in the USMC learning to be a better apex predator, Patrick Haggerty attended Georgia State University where he studied to be an Actuary. Not a very romantic or literary major, but a good paying one. He started consulting on software development and design in 1997 and has spent most of the time since developing and delivering technical training courses for Learning Tree International.

In 2004, while stuck reading a mediocre book in yet another hotel, Patrick decided to try his hand at writing fiction. He may not be published but these days you are much more likely to find him spending his evenings writing romance, than code. Patrick is an active member of RWAmerica, RWAustralia, RW New Zealand, and is President of the Outreach International chapter of the Romance Writers of America.


Self-Publish Your Way to PAN

Date: July 1-22, 2015

Instructor: Karen Ritter

Cost: RWA San Diego Chapter members: $20 Non-members: $25

Open to: All

Please register at

In this course you will learn:


Can you self publish your way to the NY Times Best Sellers List?


Editor, formatter, cover designer, etc.


Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, ARe, Kobo, Apple, /Googleplay, D2D, etc.


What is it and will it get my book in bookstores and libraries?


Tags, Description, Categories, Distribution, Royalties and much more.


How Do I Get My Book Noticed?

Why would I want to give your book away for Free?

Is 99 cents the new free

BONUS: Should you turn your books into Audible books?

Bio: Karen J. Ritter supports herself as an indie author. She has published five books to date; SANDMAN, NIGHTSCREAM, LAST SCREAM, SPIRITS IN THE TREES, SPIRITS AMONG US. All her books are on bestsellers lists for their genre. She writes under the pen name of Morgan Hannah MacDonald. Her titles are available in ebook and trade paperback as well as audio book. You can find Karen at


Geeks and Gamers’ Guide to Worldbuilding

Date: July 6–19th, 2015

Instructor: Eilis Flynn

Cost: RWA San Diego Chapter members: $15 Non-members: $20

Open to: All

Please register at

No matter what you’re writing, you have to make your readers believe in the world you’re writing about. Comic books and video games (and games in general, for that matter) have been particularly successful in doing this. We’ll examine the worlds and universes that comics and games have built, why they work so well (sometimes even across media to film), and how we can use those concepts in our own writing.


Eilis Flynn has worked at a comic book company, a couple of Wall Street brokerage firms, a wire news service, and a magazine for futurists. She’s also dined with a former British prime minister and a famous economist, can claim family ties to the emperor of Japan and the president of a major telecommunications company, and met her husband when he asked her to sign a comic book. She’s written romantic fantasies and futuristics and comic books, as well as articles on finance, mortgage-backed securities, and precious metals. Her most recent book, Wear Black, was cowritten with historical romance author Heather Hiestand and is available at most online retailers. She’s also a professional editor with nearly 40 years of experience. She can be reached

Meet the Chapter Mates: RW Richard

8192010[1]Welcome to this Month’s Meet the Chapter Mates! If you’ve been going to our meetings, chances are you’ve met RW Richard (aka Bob). Bob is a warm, welcoming gentleman who is always quick with a smile.
His blog, Romance: The Male POV is updated every week!
Tell us a little about yourself! Who are you? What do you write?
I’ve been nicknamed The Romantic Novelist by one of my fans and I think I’ll keep the tag.I grew up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Graduated from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia with a BS in Physics and an MBA in management/marketing. I worked many years as an engineer.
I’m a chess master and master swimmer. Love aerobics at the gym and walk my two dogs every day. Am an artist (paint and sketch primarily).

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

My eighth grade teacher thought I had some talent and my Physics professor at St. Joseph’s U. thought I might want to try writing after I penned a lab report about how I also burned down the lab. It took me until I wrote my master’s thesis at NBC and got a story contracted to realize that I’d eventually write full-time.
What does RWASD mean to you?
RWASD is the portal I found through Helen Kay Dimon’s course at the community college to come out of the cold and into the hot. The friendships and support are invaluable.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced on your journey to becoming a writer?
So far, it’s the disappointment of spending more than I make at it. Which makes writing a hobby until… I apply myself diligently and hope that those who do read my stories enjoy them. So far, so good.
What attracted you to the genre you write?
I enjoy great movies such as Sleepless in Seattle or You’ve Got Mail and great books like Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Natural Born Charmer. I prefer Romantic comedies in books like Mary Leo’s Stick Shift. I also like Janet Evanovich and Jeffery Deaver to name a couple. Why does it speak to you? I’m attracted to matters of the heart because I feel that love is man’s most important feature.
Where is the weirdest place or what is the weirdest thing that inspired an idea?
I rescued a dog who turned out to be half wolf. He inspired me to write POE AND MEabout how dogs came about before domestication (when wolf and man where equal partners). Basically, the entire story flowed right out of me (from him) plus a lot of research.
How does romance speak to you as a male writer?
Oh my God, I love women. I can’t think of a more apropos subject to address. Certainly, no other genre comes close to harnessing my heart and mind.
If you could go back 20 years ago, What advice would you give yourself?
 I would have to reject quitting my job as an engineer to finish my NBC project because the salary I made helped my two daughters grow into productive and loving women. However, I would have given up chess sooner to start writing part-time.
 Tell us about your latest novel!
My latest novel, Autumn Breeze, is my personal masterpiece. here’s the clip from Amazon:
Autum Breeze is available on!

Autum Breeze is available on!

On the morning of 9/11, a fourteen-year-old genius’s mother disappears. Her beloved father had been murdered years before. She’s now without parents. She resolves to get a new mom and dad and have them adopt her, before she is deported to Trinidad. For new mom, she selects her BFF (best friend forever), a New York City detective. For new dad, she selects the handsome spy who is investigating her BFF. The investigation was the girl’s fault. She had predicted the terrorist attack to her BFF. Her BFF, in turn, won’t give up her source, which makes the spy investigating her consider the detective as the possible predictor. Unbeknownst to the girl, a terrorist is also trying to find out who the predictor was, so he can silence him or her forever. Now, the girl is fighting to stay in the country, trying to make two people who hardly know each other, fall in love, get married and adopt her, while she is playing a most dangerous game of hide and seek with the terrorist to not only protect her life but also the life of her best friend.

The story, as it progresses, delves into how the City of New York responded to 9/11 by establishing an anti-terrorism task force, in which the girl’s BFF and the spy play important roles.
On the journey, the girl learns that love is earned, sometimes with a heavy price.
Can you share a little of your current work with us?
After the required wandering around, Frank got down on one knee next to an engagement ring case. His eyes bore into hers turning her into Jell-O. “I’m so in love with you, sweetheart. Would you consider marrying me?”“Rise, my gallant knight.” She couldn’t wipe a huge grin off her face if she tried. This klutzy way of proposing was so him. Although he had a lot to learn about romance, his heart, the only important part of true love, was all hers.
Everybody in the store [Tiffany, NYC] displayed the most ridiculous ‘ah-faces.’

Before you go, any advice to give to the new writers out there?

Make sure you are invested in what you write and that it flow first from your heart with all the education, technique, logic and energy your brain can contribute. Never stop learning.

Finding Focus

“Con-Cen-Tra-Tion! Can-You-Hear-Me? If-So-Lets-Go!”

-I’m probably the only one who remembers that little rhyme from grade school.

Like a lot of writers, I’m always on the search for an ideal setting to write in. We’ve all dreamt about a perfect place where the sun is shining, the perfect breeze drifts through your pristine lace curtains, and the sound of the cheerfully chirping birds serenade you as steam from your freshly brewed cup of tea wafts the delicate smell of roses into your nostrils. My ideal spot is both in a cosy coffee shop with a warm latte by my side, or cool towel on the beach with the waves of the ocean crashing against the rocks.

Just you, your writing, and peace. It’s the only place you can get any writing done whatsoever.

Yeah, we all know that’s bull.

If you’re anything like me, you write in pure chaos. I find my laptop time is spent crunched up on the corner of my couch with a fat, meowing cat on my head. The only serenades I get are the “pew pew pews!” coming from my husband’s Playstation as he destroys aliens. And lets not get started on the constant cell phone interruptions, bathroom breaks, stomach growls, and while I don’t have children, I’m sure that just adds even more to the mix for those who do.

Lets face it. We are busy, busy people! I’ve had a writer tell me that the only place she can get words in was at her son’s soccer games. I sneak words in while at work in between unruly customers. Another writer I know writes everything in a small journal she hangs around her neck while working at a daycare and transcribes it later. Through our chaotic lives, focus eludes us. You write with distractions, you write while multi-tasking, and when you go back to review your work, you cock your head to the side and think “What the hell did I just write?”

Focus can be eluding.

Everyone has their own ways of finding “The Zone.” A big factor for my focus is sound. Voices are a huge problem for me. I will listen in on the conversations around me instead of the conversations my characters are having inside my head. So instead of being a nosy busy body, I plug my headphones into various “white noise” websites to keep my focus steady.

Here are just a few I use:

  • Focus at Will is my favorite. It generates music that helps enhance concentration
  • has everything. You want coffee shop murmurs? Ocean waves? Spooky ambient sounds? This one has it.
  • Rainy Mood is exactly what it sounds like. A lovely rainy day.

Once I can get my ears concentrated on something else I can hear the voices of my characters as clear as a bell. Then I can write with numerous cats on my head while the husband saves the galaxy… In high-definition stereo. Even when I can’t get to that perfect coffee shop, I still keep on writing. That makes the visits to my ideal spot all the more productive.

What are your favorite ways to find focus? Or are you someone who can concentrate in any situation? Do you have an ideal writing space to retreat to? Do you write with a cat on your head?

Share with us in the comments section! …Especially if you write with a cat on your head. I want to feel less alone in that respect.



Meet The Chapter Mates: Tameri Etherton

What better way to get to know our own chapter than with a good old-fashioned interview! Once a month we’ll be picking a chapter mate to find out a little more about them and their current projects.

Tameri Etherton Bio Pic web

This month we’re featuring Tameri Etherton, author of The Stones of Kaldaar.

Tameri is a fun-filled gal who has a passion for writing. She shares that passion with everyone she meets. Lets find out a little more about her!



Tell us a little about yourself! Who are you? What do you write?

I’m a glittery kind of gal who loves a good cup of tea, chatting with friends, and hanging out with my prince charming. My two kids also keep me busy, but I make the time to write every day.

I love writing in a variety of genres ~ fantasy, romantic suspense, urban fantasy, and erotic romance, mostly. Switching genres helps me keep energized and excited about the stories. Especially since I’m writing a series and being immersed in that world for too long makes me miss little details. Switching to erotic romance swings me right out of that funk!

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I’ve heard a writer is someone who writes. So, I’ve always considered myself a writer because I’ve been writing ever since I can remember. I didn’t consider myself an author until my first novel was published. It’s still a thrill to see my name on a finished book and realize, hey, I’m an author.

What does RWASD mean to you?

RWASD is full of wonderful, soul-enriching men and women who each month fill my creative well with their support, their achievements, and their friendship. I adore the members of our chapter and look forward to seeing everyone at the meetings. It’s humbling to be part of an organization with so many accomplished authors, all of whom are incredibly giving with their time, their advice, and their experience. It makes me want to pay it forward to the next generation of writers and that’s a beautiful thing.

Etherton - GrootWhat is the biggest challenge you have faced on your journey to becoming a writer?

Learning everything I didn’t know! Writing is the easy part ~ it’s discovering the minutiae of what it takes to publish a book. There’s always more to learn, more to figure out, more to frustrate the heck out of you, but you’ve got to persevere. This writing gig is the best job in the world. Not only that, it’s my passion. And when you have a true passion for something, you never stop challenging yourself to be better. For me, that’s being a better writer, mentor, and business person. It’s that last one that always trips me up, but to publish books, you have to understand the business of writing as well as the craft of putting words to paper.

What would you consider your ‘Magic Moment’ while writing? When you love what you are doing? When you feel most in the zone and the words just flow?

I love writing, so pretty much any time I sit down to write, it’s a magic moment. I tend to plot while napping, or walking, or cleaning the house, so I don’t often have trouble with the story and when I sit down to write, I write. My true magic moments come when I’m reading over my work—to edit, revise, or just to remind myself where I was at in the story—and a scene captures my heart. There are several scenes in both book one and two of the fantasy series that I’ll cry each and every time I read them. Those moments are magic. Every. Single. Time.

Where is the weirdest place or what is the weirdest thing that inspired an idea?

Well, just the other day I was lying on a nice heated table with acupuncture needles in my face, ears, arms, and legs. Which meant I couldn’t move. There I was, just relaxing when it occurred to me I had to kill off a character I love. I understood it with such clarity that it hit me hard. I might even have shed a few tears, which was awkward because I couldn’t move. Then I hoped the poor doctor didn’t come in because he’d freak and think I was in pain from the acupuncture. I’m still bummed I have to kill this character, but it’s what the story demands.

Steamy or sweet? Which do you prefer?


If you could go back 20 years ago, What advice would you give yourself?

 Stay awesome. Everything you’re doing, it’s going to work out in the end, just keep doing it! Oh, and I’d tell myself how much I think she’s super fabulous and to not listen to the haters. Then I’d give myself a kiss and whisper, ‘I love you’.

 Tell us about your latest novel!

Tameri's current book "The Stones of Kaldaar" is available now!

Tameri’s current book “The Stones of Kaldaar” is available now!

Sweet! I love chatting about books. My latest novel is book two in the Song of the Swords fantasy series. The Temple of Ardyn continues the story of a young woman who was raised on Earth and taken to another world. Half of her family is out to kill her, there’s an assassin stalking her, and her evil sister betrays her in the most vile way imaginable. All of this is happening to her while she’s learning to control magical powers. It’s crazy fun. Oh yeah, and in this book she gets to have sexy time with her betrothed. Readers were a little upset they didn’t hook up in book one. But the villains sure did! I think the readers will be quite pleased with Taryn and Rhoane’s relationship for a little while. Then it might break their heart. I know it does mine. But I’m a sappy kind of gal, and every book needs a little happily ever after. Until the next book…


To find out more about Tameri and her work, visit her website: A Cup of Tea and Sorcery.

Those Pesky Love Triangles- Marie Andreas

Love triangles- those often pesky, always angst inducing, tidbits of trouble that pop up in movies and books.  Some are great, some are meh, and some are just plain awful.

For the most part readers either love them or hate them.  I have a friend who will give an author only a few chapters to resolve one or she will walk away from the book (and series).

I personally have never been a huge fan of them. For the most part I see them falling in two categories: 1) The one good guy, one bad, or 2) two good guys.  The first one bugs me because if the one guy is bad–then why in the heck is the heroine with him?  The author better have a dang good reason, otherwise I’m thinking we have a not-so-bright heroine here and I’m most likely to walk away from reading further.  The second one bugs me because oft times there really is no solid reason that we as readers can see as to why she picks one over the other.  Both are awesome, both seem perfect. Did she throw a dart?  All of a sudden she just picks one.

I personally would never really use one in my books because of my feelings about them as a reader.  I just didn’t see that many done really well.  But, this week-end I went to a one-day workshop with Michael Hauge (awesome- see him if you can!).  He examines the inner journey as part of his lecture.  And the main part of that journey is the transformation of the character from their “identity” (who they believe they are) into their “essence” (who they REALLY are).  That is the emotional arc for the length of your book.

For a great love triangle you need to have one “Essence” lover and one “Identity” lover.  In other words, one of the men reflects or is a part of the woman’s identity-who she thinks she is (or is trying to appear to be), the other reflects or is part of her essence–who she really is and will become (she just doesn’t know it yet).

A good example comes from one of the first Urban Fantasy authors, Laurel K. Hamilton.  In her Anita Blake series, the character starts out with two love interests of a sort- Jean-Claude (vampire) and Richard (werewolf) (this was waaaay before Twilight folks- Laurel K. started the trend ;)).

Anita is a necromancer/ vampire executioner who doesn’t want to think of her self as one of the monsters.  Richard, a High School teacher who passes for human whenever he can- is a great “identity” love interest.  He’s who she thinks she should be with because of who she thinks she is (not a monster).  Jean-Claude as all “monster”  he embraces being a vampire.  Anita finds herself drawn to him also because he is her “essence”-a monster (not in the bad sense- it’s how she sees things).

When Anita began being more drawn into her essence, she was pulled more towards Jean-Claude.  She’d get scared and run back to Richard, but then she’d go back to Jean-Claude as her sense of her true self grew.

If an author is able to clearly show this, to show how the one lover is in line with who the heroine will be at the end of the book (or series) then it wouldn’t make for a pesky love triangle- rather it’ll just make for damn fine reading :).





We’re happy to welcome back RWASD member, R. Ann Siracusa. She’s got some great thoughts on Body Language…

Hope you’ll give us your thoughts…


I’m on my soapbox again.  At the risk of being booted off our blog, I’d like to ask a question of editors.  Haven’t you, as a group, ever learned about Retained Neonatal Reflexes, muscle memory, or reflex actions?  How about body language?

Pretty common information, right?

You’d think.  However, I’ve worked a number of different line editors over the last five years, and they all seem to love this little note on their line edits?

“Green: Indicates independently acting body parts, particularly on the part of the POV character. Please revise so that characters’ body parts aren’t acting on their own, but rather the characters are the ones doing the movement/action.”

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not complaining about the editing process or edits in general.  Edits and line edits are not only necessary, but they are an opportunity to make our work the best that it can be.  Most of the time, I make the changes the editor wants.  But I disagree that this particular edit comment about body parts moving on their own is alwaysaccurate.

Let’s take some examples from my recent line edits.  I’m not claiming these are the greatest, most literary sentences in western literature, but I also don’t think the comment applies.

Her wide gray eyes gazed into his, growing even larger, as though he’d taken her totally by surprise.

The comment was, “All by themselves?  Body parts can’t act independently.”  Really?  When you have your eyes closed, and you hear a loud, unexpected noise near your head, don’t your eyes pop open?  Or do you say to yourself, “The noise scared me so I will open my eyes now.”?

My confused mind grappled with the sensation that I didn’t know where or who I was.

Okay, believe it or not, our minds can “grapple” and “struggle” and “wander.”  It’s not something you decide to do…it just happens.  This is a sentence I wouldn’t change for the editor.

His brow scrunched into a confused frown.

A person can definitely decide consciously to frown.  However, if surprised, startled, or in spontaneous response to a sudden emotion, a human being can frown as a reflex action.  To me, saying, “He scrunched his brow into a frown” sounds like an intentional action.  The other form seems more like a reflex action in response to the situation.

My stomach clenched.

Sorry, but I don’t purposely clench my stomach.  Do you?

You’re Not Going To Win

While I realize publishing houses have their standards and the editor will prevail, and I understand the concerns editors have for eyes that dart, arms that lift, and so on.  I’ve also done a fair amount of research on body language.  Under certain circumstances, some body parts do, in fact, take actions independent of conscious thought.  And that’s a scientifically proven fact.

So, What’s The Problem?

Are readers so unfamiliar with body language that they will be confused or will misinterpret the words we write?  Personally, I don’t think so, and my research backs that up.

The study of body movements is called Kineses, and there is abundant research available on the topic that shows that most humans communicate through body language as well as through speech and are very adept at interpreting body language.

A substantial portion of human body language gestures are reflexive and unconscious, but it is possible to learn to control most of them except the pupils and secretions of the eye.  Also, individual body language gestures can mean more than one thing and should be interpreted only in relation to other gestures, activities, and other kinds of information (particularly since it is possible for a person to control the body language gestures).

Body Language Indicators

Body language is defined by some as a reaction to an emotion.  Because writers use those non-verbal indicators of mood and emotion in their writing, it’s good to be familiar with reading and understanding body language.  At the end, I’ve listed several links for interpreting body language that you may find useful.  Below are categories of body movements that authors can use to describe mood and emotion.

● Posture
● Head motion
● Facial expression
● Eye Contact (or lack of contact)
● Other movements and aspects of the eyes
● Gestures
● Paralanguage
● Voice and tone, speed of speaking
● Space
● Silence
● Listening

Retained Neonatal Reflexes
To some extent, humans retain a few of the involuntary reflexes (controlled by the lower centers of our brain) from the womb when the central nervous system is not fully developed.  In the early years of life, as the higher centers of the brain begin to mature, these reflexes are gradually integrated, but certain residual primary reflexes stick with us.

● Fear
● Pain
● Surprise
● Anything that triggers the fight or flight reaction.

According to Body Language Insights, “Body language is a largely automatic response to fearful situations.  The behaviors of our body language are mostly innate to us, though some might be “inherited.”  Either way, we have little knowledge of or control over when our bodies react to fear and how.  Depending on the severity of the situation, our fear can excite us, encourage us, shock us, or completely paralyze us.  And it will be written all over our faces!”

Most of us are familiar with the “fight or flight” adrenalin rush of the sympathetic nervous system.  This reflex readies the body for survival during stressful situations.  According to, “interactions between the neural and hormonal systems of the body work together to get the body ready to stand and fight the challenge or run away from it (flight).  When faced with life-threatening crises, unnecessary functions are temporarily shut down and energies are diverted to functions vital to survival.  Any stress, whether physical, psychological (anticipation of an unpleasant event) or emotional (anger or fear) will produce some, if not all elements of the fight or flight response.”

Therefore, in situations where our fictional characters are startled or surprised, hurt, or stressed (including anticipation of something unpleasant), the body may react without conscious thought, both viscerally and physically.  Sure, the reacting body parts are attached to a person’s central nervous system which is sending signals to cells as electrochemical waves travelling along thin fibers called axons, but that’s happening at a subconscious level.  For all intents and purposes, the body parts are acting independently of the cerebrum.

Muscle Memory

Another factor that comes into play is muscle memory.  Muscle memory is described as a type of movement with which the muscles become familiar over time, i.e. consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition.  When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious thought or effort.  A person often utilizes muscle memory driving a car, reacting defensively to threat, and so on.

Therefore, in a physical situation such as a fight (in a novel or real life), an arm or leg might shoot out as the result of muscle memory and, basically, act independently.  You can do something without realizing you’re doing it, depending on the circumstances and action involved.

Uncontrollable Visceral Reactions

Visceral reactions, by definition, are subconscious reactions.  While generally internal, such reactions may also be detectible (usually through sight or smell) to others and can be used to alert other characters in your novels (and readers) to what’s going on emotionally.

Just one problem.  People have these visceral reactions for lots of reasons.  Hence, the advice that one needs to observe a number of body language indicators before interpreting what the other person is thinking/feeling.

Secretions and excretions – While many secretions are detectible only by smell, others such as tears and watering of the eye, perspiration, and saliva, can be visual.  There are other secretions, but I’m not going to go there.  (FYI: Earwax is also a secretion, but I doubt that it has much of a role in writing novels.)

Gaseous outputs  – Gross!  Gaseous outputs include exhaling, sneezing, coughing, burping, and intestinal gas.  They all give information about the body and, in some cases, mood or emotional reaction.  A sigh can be a form of exhaling that indicates weariness, relief, resignation, and so on.  Coughing and sneezing, used to dislodge obstructions in respiratory passages, may also be caused by irritants.  We can all figure out which of these can be controlled.

Heat generation – While the human body generally maintains a temperature of 98.6º Fahrenheit, body temperature is an uncontrollable indicator which can give visible and sensory indicators to others.  A blush from embarrassment, a flushed face from fever, and sexual attraction.  Sometimes it’s possible to actually feel the heat pouring off someone, and that is an uncontrollable reaction.  However, no flying body parts need be involved.

Electrical activity – This is one I had trouble getting my arms around even though I know that brains cells (neurons) use electrical energy to communicate with each other.  There are four types of brainwaves generated depending on what a person is doing.  These brainwaves are associated with mental states.  For example: Anxious people tend to produce an overabundance of high Beta waves.  Another example: When you close your eyes, your brain automatically starts to produce more Alpha waves, associated with the mental state of being awake but relaxed and not processing much information.

Yeah, so?

So, it’s something to be aware of.  Brainwaves can’t be detected without benefit of sophisticated medical equipment.  Hence, they are not only involuntary but undetectable by others.  But haven’t you been in a room full of excited or hostile people—situations where emotions are intense—and actually felt the electrical output in the form of tension?  The old cliché “the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife.”  Electricity in the air is not just metaphorical.

Sound – Sounds like coughing, sneezing, humming, stuttering, a high-pitched voice, speaking too fast, wheezing, clicking the tongue, and so on are common signals we understand.  They may be unconscious and uncontrolled, but one can learn to control them.  Even changes in our breathing, while usually reflex actions, can be controlled.

One reaction and sound that can’t be easily controlled (and for most of us, not at all), and is detectible by others, is heart rate.  In addition to being able to see pulse points jump and throbbing arteries, my research indicates that in close proximity you can hear another’s heart beating.

A Word Of Advice

Editors are still going to give you comments like those at the beginning.  I’m giving you some ammunition in case you want to write that your character’s mind wandered, or someone’s stomach roiled.  Go ahead and argue, if you want, but your editor will probably prevail.

Body Language References   This is one of the best references                                                                     

Causes of Dilated Pupils |

R. Ann Siracusa talks Cliches

Hi everyone – 

We’re very excited that our chapter mate, Ann Siracusa, has volunteered for a monthly guest blog spot on our RWASD Blog!

If any other chapter members are interested in a monthly spot, please email Lisa Kessler at LdyDisney at


A Personal Opinion Regarding The Use Of Clichés

By R. Ann Siracusa

That’s a phrase authors hear many times, particularly at the beginning of their writing careers.  Editors, agents and successful authors insist there are no rules.  You have to do what is right for you.  Whatever works.  You can do anything if you do it right.

Maybe yes, maybe no.  But if there is one rule, it is “Don’t Use Clichés!”

Since Cliché happens to be one of my best and favorite languages, let’s take another look.  The Random House Webster’s College Dictionary published in 2000 defines a cliché (with or without the accent, by the way) as “a trite stereotyped expression” or “anything that has become commonplace through overuse.”

Okay, we’ve got that.

Even recognizing that fiction is not real life, and dialogue in books is not just everyday conversation, clichés are a legitimate part of the English language.  All you have to do is listen to the people around you and how they speak.  Listen to the television or the radio.  Go to movies.

We all use clichés in our speech at some time or another.  And the reason is because the expressions are trite and commonplace from overuse.  That’s why most people know what they mean.  Often, the listener has had the same experience or heard the manner of speech so usually there is no question what it is intended to mean.

They work!

The operative words are intended to mean.  Many people who recognize the intent may have no idea what the original and/or real meaning is, only the situation or action the words represent at this point in time.  Unless you are a gardener, you may not know that “nipping (something) in the bud” actually means pinching off the bud or new growth of a plant so that more new growth will emerge on either side and make the plant fuller, or have more blooms.

Human beings—and apparently the writers of dictionaries fall into this category—are perverse animals rife with the tendency to be inconsistent.  It’s interesting to note that while my handy, dandy, and outdated Random House Webster’s College Dictionary defines a cliché as a word or expression that is overused and trite, those are precisely the requirements for adding new words to the dictionary.

“To be included in a Merriam-Webster dictionary, a word must be used in a substantial number of citations that come from a wide range of publications over a considerable period of time. Specifically, the word must have enough citations to allow accurate judgments about its establishment, currency, and meaning.”

Go figure.

As writers, words are the tools of our trade, but how many of us actually study Etymology, the origins and development of words?  (No, not Entomology—that’s bugs.)  And we may not pay a lot of attention to words that slip into the English language (or out of it, sometimes, by redefinition or disuse).

Science, technology, and new products account for a large number of new words.  Foreign words, combinations of existing words to form new ideas, slang, idioms, common expressions, redefinitions, and offensive words by the thousands find their way into the English language each year.

They have made it when they are used frequently and consistently enough throughout English speaking countries that NCD (New College Dictionary) adds them to the next edition of their publication.

To give you the flavor, take a look at very short list of words, by decade, added to the English dictionary (and no, I didn’t bother to alphabetize them).  I would be surprised if there isn’t at least one of the words on the list that you consider a cliché, while some of them may be so new you don’t know what they mean.  I certainly didn’t and your spell check won’t, either.

1940’s : A-bomb, aromatherapy, baby-sit, barf, bikini, eager beaver, carhop, gobbledygook, goof ball, name dropping, quisling, yada-yada-yada, zonk.

1950’s: acrylic fiber, aerospace, beatnik, biathlon, discotheque, do-it-yourself, hang-up, pay television, karate, Rastafarian, real-time, TV dinner, UFO, theme park, zinger, weirdo.

1960’s: aerobics, database, pantyhose, nose job, soft lens, gentrify, third world, Op-Ed, space shuttle, time frame, security blanket, zilch, zit, love-in, jet lag, quark, quick fix.

1970’s: acquaintance rape, CAT scan, 800 number, gridlock, gigabyte, gazillion, diskette, downsize, double-dipping, pig-out, reality check, VCR, wish list, wacko, jump-start, housesit, pooper-scooper

1980s: abs, designer drug, ozone hole, dis, slippery slope, snowboard, telemarketing, rollerblade, skank, wuss, yuppie, CD-ROM, buffalo wing, cyberpunk, gelati, safe-sex.

1990’s: anatomically-correct, arm candy, McJob, senior moment, phone tag, Web site, strip mall, fashionista, lapdancer, bad hair day, call waiting. scrunchy, take-no-prisoners, PCS, soccer mom.

2008 Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate® Dictionary: air quotes, dark energy, dirty bomb, dwarf planet, edamame, fanboy, infinity pool, jukebox musical, kiteboarding, malware, mental health day, mondegreen,. Netroots, norovirus, pescatarian, phytonutrient, pretexting, prosecco, racino, soju, subprime, supercross, Texas Hold ’em, webinar, wing nut.

2011 The Oxford-English Dictionary just added 45,436 new phrases as words, and among them is the first symbol to ever grace the volume, ‘♥’ and phrases like FYI, OMG, and LOL.

2011 Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate® Dictionary: Americana (a genre of music), boomerang child, bromance, continuous positive airway pressure, cougar, crowdsourcing, duathlon, fist bump, helicopter parent, m-commerce, parkour, robocall, social media, tweet, walk-off.

I would never presume to put my opinions above the advice from the likes of Catherine Coulter, Jennifer Cruise, and the other published, and unpublished, authors you’ve heard speak on writing.  They know—I don’t.  But I do know that English is a rich language.

In 1947, American College Dictionary, one of first to include new words, boasted 132,000 words, one of the largest of its time.  Today, the Oxford English Dictionary has 500,000 words, 616,500 words forms, and another 500,000 technical terms (one million words).  Webster’s Third New International Dictionary has 450,000 words.

We are writers, my friends.  People learn from us.  We learn from each other.  We should be skilled enough at our craft to command the use of as many of those half a million plus English words as possible.  I can assure you that every book I read by one of the authors I’ve heard speak to our chapter or at a conference, includes at least one new word I have to look up and uses at least one cliché.  Don’t let them fool you.  They don’t want any competition.

Okay, okay.  You have my permission to combine words in new and fresh ways—I can live with that.  And you have my encouragement to use clichés sparingly or not at all, as you see fit.  (Oops! Another cliché).  But know your language.  Know the words, what they mean, and how to use them—then, make the choice of which ones best suit the story you are telling and the way and to whom you are telling it.

Wield the words of your language with skill and assurance, and make every one of them count.  (And never, never trust your computer’s spell check.)


We’re also celebrating with Ann on her new release!!!

Release Day – September 28, 2012

Book 2 in theTour Director Extraordinaire Series


By R. Ann Siracusa

A young tour director and a handsome spy take a fast-paced romantic romp through Italy in pursuit of a lost grave, an assassin, and a once-in-a-lifetime love.

Breathless Press Buy Link
E-book format only – 97K
ISBN 978-1-77101-827-2


I’m Harriet Ruby: Tour Director Extraordinaire. At least, I thought I was worthy of that title, until…

My first mistake: Agreeing to conduct a private tour of Italy. Fourteen Italian-Americans from New Jersey? All family, for three weeks, with four teenagers? What was I thinking? Fate responds to my engraved invitation by placing one of the family members under surveillance as a suspect in an assassination plot. And who is assigned to the case? None other than my favorite drop-dead-gorgeous spy, Will Talbot.

My second mistake: Allowing Will to coax an invitation from the family matriarch to join the tour.

And that was just the beginning. The matriarch, searching for the unknown location of her mother’s grave so she can bury her brother’s cremated ashes (which have been smuggled into Italy wrapped in Cuban cigars), and her quirky family members sweep through Italy leaving chaos, hilarity, and danger in their wake.



The next morning before breakfast, I met with Vita Spinella, the family matriarch of my tour group, and explained my request to take Will with us.  She listened as she sipped her room service coffee.  When I finished, she put down her cup, picked up her cane, and set it across her lap.


“So, you want my approval to bring this young man―what’s his name―on our trip.”  She wasn’t asking, merely confirming her understanding.

“His name is Will Talbot.”

My gaze fixed nervously on her instrument of torture, trying not to cringe.  The old gal wielded that thing with lightning speed and enjoyed doing a little damage if, in her opinion, the circumstances warranted.  With what I’d seen of her family, the cane wasn’t a bad thing, but she was pretty scary.  No wonder her grandson Eric didn’t want her to find out about the snake he’d brought with him on the trip.

Lifting my shoulders in a shrug, I attempted nonchalance, hoping I wouldn’t break out in a cold sweat or pass out.  “It’s just a thought.  He seemed at a loss since his friends had to go back home.  And we have plenty of room in the van.”

I couldn’t read her expression.  She hid her reactions well.  In fact, the possibility of Will and Vita playing off each other sparked my interest.  Would they be allies or competitors?  The thought of watching them try to outwit each other delighted me.  Sparks might fly, and she wouldn’t believe for a second he was at a loss about anything, but I would bet they’d hit it off big time.

“But if it’s not convenient for you or your family objects, I have no commitment to him.  He’s only a friend of my brother’s.  I’ll simply tell him no.”

Oh, please, say yes.  Crossing my fingers, even behind my back, was out of the question. The old lady might have the sight, like one of my aunts.  Another of my Italian cousins claimed she had the evil eye.  I don’t believe in either one―exactly―but since my karma took a nose dive into the crapper, I hadn’t been taking any chances.

Vita studied me for a long time, her stare blatant and unblinking, her dark eyes as deep as the universe.  As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t look away.  My palms grew damp.  Nervous, I clasped my hands in my lap to avoid rubbing them together.  She let me stew until I ached to run screaming from the room, then leaned forward.

“You seem like a nice wholesome young lady.  Immature, headstrong, unfocused, but honest and caring.  You’re a good person.”

Well, that really inspires confidence.  Thanks…I think.  By now, my blood pressure had shot through the roof.  I was perspiring by the bucket load.  My tongue thickened and stuck to the roof of my mouth, disabling any ability to speak.

Her eyes narrowed to a squint.  “You like this man, don’t you?”

“Will?”  My voice squeaked like bad brakes on a cold morning.  I lowered my gaze and studied my clenched hands twisting in my lap.  My cheeks burned.  “Well, yes, I do like him, although I don’t really know him.  He seems very nice.”

The truth, as far as it went.  I didn’t dare attempt anything else.  My guts quivered with trepidation for fear she would intuit the part I’d left out.  I doubted there were many people on this earth who could lie to Vita Spinella, and I felt sure those who did would regret it sooner rather than later.

“Forget about like and nice.  That’s wishy-washy.  Do you know him in the Biblical sense?  Are you intimate?”

So much for wishy-washy.

My jaw dropped, and I thought my eyeballs were going to pop out of their sockets and fall into her coffee.  Well, poop.  She had me by the short hairs on that one.

Pleased with the shock value, she sat back and relaxed.  “Forgive an old woman for asking.”  Her self-satisfied smile warned me not to perjure myself by fibbing.  “Anyway, you’ve already told me what I wanted to know.”

Me?  Transparent?  I suppose I provided her morning entertainment before she got a shot at the rest of her relatives.

“One of the few advantages of being old is that I can say all kinds of outrageous things, and no one can do anything about it.”  She emitted a gleeful cackle.  “You realize some of my grandchildren are on this trip.  I brought them here to expose them to their roots.  Not that any of them are interested.”  She rolled her eyes and shook her head with a resigned sigh.  “These younger generations worry me sometimes.”

By then I’d recovered a small amount of my composure.

Signora Spinella, I would never allow anything personal to become a bad influence on your grandchildren.”

Vita lifted her chin and clicked her tongue.  “I know that, young lady, but didn’t mean you and this Will Talbot of yours.  You could do the deed in the aisle of the bus, and I doubt my grandchildren would even notice.”  She paused and looked thoughtful before she went on.

“In fact, it might be good for them to be exposed to a healthy sexual relationship for a change.  There certainly aren’t any in this family.  They’re all too busy cheating on spouses and practicing one-upmanship to work at a relationship.  And some of them are perverts, plain and simple.”

Well, that didn’t leave a lot for me to say, did it?

Don’t miss the free read short story – FIRST DATE
First Date – Download Link

The Write Stuff writer’s workshops

Are you a writer with a story that wants to be told?

A book that wants to be published?                        

The Friends of the Valley Center Library Present:
Three streamlined, information-packed fiction-writing workshops given by

 published author instructors.


May 5 – HelenKay Dimon & Linda Thomas-Sundstrom“Creating Great Dialogue – In Fiction”
May 12 – Chris Green – “From Small Town, Texas, to a colony on Mars: World building for whatever you’re writing”

Time:   10:00 – 12:00 (Please arrive 10 minutes early to assure a prompt start.)

Place:  Valley Center Library, 29200 Cole Grade Road, Valley Center, CA 92082

Cost:   $10.00 per session.  You can take one or two sessions.

Registration:   Pre-enrollment and payment are required at least one week prior to each session.  Register by April 25 for the May 5 session.  Class size will be limited.   No refunds.   No walk-ins.

Need more info?  Email:  or visit the Friends of the Library Bookstore on Friday afternoons / ask for Linda.