You often hear writers say their story ideas come from the strangest places.

I’m not so sure that’s true. Ideas are all around us … all we have to do is open our eyes (and ears) to the possibilities.

The initial idea for “Blind Date Bride” came from a news story I heard on the radio back when I still lived in Logansport, Indiana. I first wrote its opening scene as a one-act play. I’m not sure if it ever got produced by the Logansport theater company, because I moved away before the one-act festival.

But once the idea lodged itself in my brain, the story was too good to ignore. I fleshed it out beyond the church basement, where the hero and heroine argue with their respective friends (who entered them in a wedding contest even though neither of them were in the market for a spouse ‚ even a temporary one). I put them (reluctantly) in the same apartment for 90 days, fully expecting some hairy situations to come up. I gave them pasts and a future (together).

My current WIP, “Trouble in Paradise?”, features the best friends from Kari & Damien’s story. They actually started dating at Kari & Damien’s fake wedding — and got more action on the wedding night than our hapless bride and groom. When one of the first people to read “Blind Date Bride” said, “Bethany and Cody should have their own story”, my imagination was off and running.

My first manuscript, “Operation Snag Mike Brad,” was inspired by my crush on a coworker (who became the basis for pseudo-playboy Mike James). Cassie & Dustin’s and Bree & Mike’s stories grew from that first MS, though they’ve both taken on lives of their own beyond the original story (at least I hope they have).

“Operation Snag Mike Brad” also inspired the story I plan to write for this year’s NaNoWriMo. It’s the story of Brad’s brother, Kenny, who turns up at Erin’s first Kingston family dinner with a fake fiancee in tow. (The fake-out’s his desperate attempt to get his matchmaking Ma off his back.)

I honestly can’t remember where the ideas for Meg & Matt’s or Drew & Lainy’s stories came from. (The character of Drew is loosely based on another guy I once worked with, so he probably gave me a germ of inspiration.) His story is set in a fictional high school on the other side of the (also fictional) major town in my first three manuscripts. Meg & Matt’s story is the only one set where I live now, Arizona.

On the drive through New Mexico while I was on my summer vacation I had an idea from a road sign, compounded by something I saw on the side of the road a few miles later. It’s still a nebulous, unformed idea, but I jotted it down. Maybe it’ll develop into something more … and maybe not. But at least it’s a possibility.

Heck, I even had an idea when I heard Gary Coleman had died. I haven’t done a lot of development on it, either … but it kind of fits with my other TV-related stories.

OK … that’s a little weird. Maybe story ideas DO come from the strangest places, after all.

Where’s the weirdest place you’ve gotten a story idea?

After reading my last blog entry, one of my friends from college messaged me with this bit of inspiration about giving characters reasons to love one another:

Love isn’t only about the hot sex – it’s about friendship. Cuz when the hot sex goes away (old age, car accident, ED), there must still be something there between them.”

Thanks to the part about ED, it cracked me up … but it also rang true.

I think, for the most part, my characters ARE friends first (well, except for Cassie and Dustin. They hate — and annoy — each other at first sight … and even when they’re totally in love, they still want to kill each other).

Brad and Erin start (before my book begins) as reporter-source; Bree and Mike are friends/coworkers (even though she’s supremely hot for his supremely HOT bod).

As for Kari and Damien, they start out as strangers who are trying to become friends (and lovers) despite the fact that they find themselves hitched.

I’m looking forward to my NARWA meeting Saturday (really later today, I guess — I really need to get some sleep). We’re doing synopsis-writing and characterization. The timing couldn’t be better, since I’m at a point where I’m thinking about the synopsis for “Blind Date Bride.”

Over at the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood, my writing blog home away from home, I read a fantastic post the other day. It was all about what editors want from a category romance.

After reading it, I wonder if Brad and Erin’s story is as ready as I thought. I break nearly all of the guidelines:

  1. Stir internal conflict on EVERY page.
  2. Minimize secondary characters.
  3. Let your main characters be active.
  4. Get them together.
  5. Keep them together.
  6. Give them reasons to love each other.

Hmm. I already know the story is a little thin on conflict. For the first several chapters, the main one is Erin thinks she wants Mike to notice her but she’s starting to like Brad, too.

My secondary characters, including Mike, all play what may be too large a role. Not surprising, considering they each have their own story. Brad and Erin’s is the first in a series.

Are they active? I don’t even know how to start thinking about that. That means the answer is probably a big, fat “NO.”

As for getting them together, Brad and Erin don’t have a scene together until page 12 — and that’s after Erin has her first scene with Mike. And keeping them together? Well, they go out on several dates (including an ill-fated trip to Chicago for a concert), but there are plenty of scenes in between with one or the other talking to someone else.

Do I give them reasons to love one another? Well, they’re both good people, and fine upstanding citizens of these United States. And it goes without saying that they’re beautiful (most heroes and heroines are, after all). He likes her sense of humor and honesty; she’s attracted to his body and soul.

Hmm. That may also be a little on the thin side. I’m beginning to wonder if this book will ever sell without yet another overhaul … Ugh. That’s a horrible thought, not least of all because I’m way too invested in these characters. Of all my characters, Erin is most like me (education reporter with no luck in love — all me when I wrote the thing).

On the plus side, I thought of a way to make Meg & Matt’s story, “Beauty and the Ballplayer” more closely adhere to the guidelines I just discovered. I’m going to lop off the first several pages (which I’ve decided are all backstory, despite the fact that I love the first line:

Meg looked at the pregnancy test stick in her hand, hoping like hell she misinterpreted it.

The rest of the first few pages have her thinking about how, at 32, she’s too  old to be pregnant and alone, and about how her ex ran off to Vegas to become a professional poker player.

I think I’ll start with her and Matt meeting at the bar instead.

Sadly, not much writing has happened since Wednesday (and that writing didn’t count toward my Word Count Countdown, because it wasn’t actually writing on any of my WIPs).

This type of limbo is much more fun!

I’m at a certain point: Finished MS but no query or synopsis — and since our NARWA meeting next Saturday is on the dreaded synopsis, I’m kind of trying to hold out before working on one of those.

The query and synopsis on “Blind Date Bride” are mostly finished, but I’m still a little scared to send that one out there. I did get a rave review from one of my NARWA sisters, who described it as “delicious.”

With a review like that, why am I not sure? It’s probably plain old fear of rejection — again. I’ve already gotten tons of rejections on Brad & Erin’s story, so why would I expect this one to do better?

Well, it was written much later. Brad & Erin’s MS was my first, and even though I’ve edited it so much that parts hardly resemble the original draft, it could be that it’s just not good enough. Pat said she can tell a huge difference between that one and “Blind Date Bride,” that my writing has grown and changed.

So maybe it’s time to bite the bullet, finish the query/synopsis and send it out there. It’ll immediately expand my agent pool, since this one’s a single title instead of category.

With just a little more than 8,000 words to write to hit the 90K mark needed for a single-title contemporary, I’m finding words are just pouring out of my head an onto the page.

Where was all this enthusiasm last week, when I needed it to end the NaNo with a less-pathetic word count?

Oh well. If  I can keep this momentum going, I’ll soon be typing the momentous words: “First draft complete!”

How exciting that will be! I’ve never finished a full-length MS before. All my others are category length. I can’t wait.

First up? Setting it aside for a few weeks, at least, before a read-through. In those weeks, I’ll be starting to shop for an agent for “Operation Snag Mike/Brad,” the GH entry.

Now that I’ve decided to get my rear in gear, things are starting to happen for me. How thrilling! 😀

This time, I mean my Golden Heart entry — all 246 pages of it, plus the disk with  my full MS on it. I dropped it off at the post office sometime between 11 a.m. and noon.

It felt like such a momentous occasion. I was so darn proud of myself I had to call the Boyfriend right away and tell him it was done.

It wasn’t until I drove back across town that I had a moment of panic. Did I really put the disk with my full MS on it in the box? I know I did … because if I didn’t, where is it? Not in the car … So I’m sure it’s right where it’s supposed to be — on its merry way to RWA HQ.

I had some credit on my Picazzo’s loyalty card, so I treated myself to one of my favorite lunches — a slice of pizza and caesar side salad. Delicious! And the momentous occasion of entering my first Golden Heart competition deserved to be celebrated.

So celebrate I did. Now, on to the next project: Trying to catch up on my NaNo word count. I should be able to make good headway this weekend, because I’m not working. Not only am I not working, but I also have a NARWA meeting — and I always get fired up to write when I go to those.

My problem is that I usually have to head back home and go to work … and by the time I get home after a long day/night at work, I’m too tired and/or have lost that motivation. Not this time. A weekend stretches before me with just two commitments: the meeting Saturday morning and Boyfriend time Sunday evening.

20,000 words, here I come!

I’m not going to say “wasting,” even if that’s what it feels like.

That’s right. I printed out the first 48 pages of my MS, which is where I want to end my GH entry, and my still-6-ish-page synopsis yesterday. I figure that sometimes I see things on paper that I don’t see on my computer screen.

Odd how that works: I can read over something a dozen (or more!) times on-screen, and see something I totally missed on a paper copy.

I’ll chalk that one up to “things that make you go hmm” …

Great. Now that song is running through my head. Guess that’s better than Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA,” which was running through my head one day last week, driving me absolutely batty.

As I get more involved in rewriting Brad and Erin’s story, I’m finding less and less time to blog — both here and on my other blog.

I guess I should take that as a good sign, eh? 😀

Today, I had a pleasant lunch (complete with sinful dessert) with a writer friend from NARWA. We’re both entering the 2010 Golden Heart (in different categories) and met to talk about our progress.

I passed along some of the tips I got in my critique, because they seemed to apply to her manuscript, too.

It’d be fantastic if we both were able to final in the contest … but I’m not counting on it, especially since I’ve never entered before. I’ve heard some people enter for years before finally getting the call that they’ve finaled.

Guess it’s a good thing that I’m still relatively young. I still have long years of writing ahead of me!

I spent some time this weekend looking through Debra Dixon’s infamous “Goal, Motivation and Conflict,” in case you couldn’t tell.

The goal, of course, is “what.” Motivation is the “why.” And conflict is the “why not.” Your character wants _______ because ______ but ________.

It seems so easy. Yet when I tried to put the principles to work in Brad & Erin’s story (my Golden Heart entry), it was short on both motivation and conflict.

Hmm. I’m back to that whole “polishing this thing for the GH is going to be more work than I thought” thing. It seems to be a recurring theme here.

I thought I was being smart by going with the already-finished manuscript instead of the one that still had 40,000 words to be completed. But by the time I fix it up, I’ll probably have done just as much work. I’m thinking I’ll have to take a week’s vacation right before the deadline to hole up somewhere and work on it. (Well, that’d be one way to burn one of the four weeks I get and have no idea what to do with — it’s not like I have the money to travel.)

Guess I’d better get to it. Poor Brad and Erin don’t have the  ability to fix themselves — and I’m not going to let my entry fee go to waste.

Got my critique back this afternoon, and I was right: The manuscript definitely needs some help.

I’m not going to lie: It was a bit unnerving to see all that “red ink” on my pages. But it was also edifying, because she said a lot of the same things I’ve been thinking.

Just the other day, I started to wonder if I spent too much of the first page and a half setting the scene … and sure enough, Shea suggested I cut the first page or so and start with more action.

She also pointed out that I need to keep the thread about the book Erin gets for her birthday going — and I’d noticed it’s not as strong a presence as I’d like.

As for Brad, she didn’t exactly call him boring … but she did point out that he’s, well, “bland” … and that’s just a nicer word for dull as dirt.

So it looks like I have my work cut out for me. Good thing I’m up for the challenge. I got an e-mail confirmation today from RWA that they’ve received my entry.

Your manuscript, Operation Snag Brad, has been entered in the Contemporary Series Romance Category of the 2010 Golden Heart Contest sponsored by Romance Writers of America, Inc.  Please send six copies of the partial manuscript, six synopses, and one full manuscript to (address)

Guess I won’t be getting back to Kari and Damien anytime soon. Fixing up Brad and Erin is going to take up all my free time between now and Dec. 2. 😀

But when I’m done, it should be a much stronger — and hopefully sell-able — story.