Progress Report

July 10, 2014

Thought some of you might be interested to know I’m working away on Without Words (that’s undoubtedly going to be the final title, as I’m getting fond of it). In fact, if things had gone as planned, I’d be through the first draft now, but I’ve had a surprise.

You see I use Scrivener (see screen shot in last post) for a very basic, rough outline of a story before I write a word. I don’t follow the outline exactly. Things change as I go along and have additional, more/better ideas, but the outline helps me tell a reasonably coherent story, and it also helps me know I have a novel-length story.

So I started Without Words, and my outline had 25 chapters, which as I remember, without going back and looking, is about what Bad Man and Light had, and I expected a book along the lines of 8o-85,000 words. Right now I’m past 91,000 words, and I have four and a half chapters to go. So unless editing really reduces things, I’m going to have a novel in the 100,000-word range again, and that surprises me.

You see, here are the word counts for my existing romances:

          Eyes                   117,000
          Sing                    138,000
          Dancing               95,000
          Bad Man              85,000
          Light                    84,000

Of course different stories can be longer or shorter, but I really thought the reason Eyes and Sing are so much longer is that they were the first books I wrote, and with more experience, I was “tightening” my writing (this is held out as A Good Thing by writing gods and goddesses; writers are advised to tighten things all the time) and so subsequent books were shorter.

Either I’m loosening again or I never tightened to start with and Words is just a longer story—or something. Right from the beginning, bits I had outlined as taking one chapter turned into two or in one case three. Right now I have 40 chapters (and an Afterword) in my Scrivener binder, and for all I know that will turn into 41.

So that’s where I am. The end is nigh, but not as nigh as I expected.

~ Ellen

You Won’t Believe What I Did!

June 23, 2014

As those of you who follow here know, I have a terrible time with sex scenes. You’ve seen me post before how I need to have a couple of beers, be alone in the house, have it dark and quiet, etc., before I can even pretend to get started and that doesn’t go into the many methods of procrastination I’ve developed for after all my conditions are met.

So, even though I know you are readers, not writers (mostly), and don’t want to hear about the nuts and bolts of writing, I can’t help but share my latest triumph. Starting with Beautiful Bad Man, I switched from writing in an ordinary word processing program to Scrivener, which is a program designed specifically for writers.

I kept reading about Scrivener on Kboards and was curious already, and then I realized the revisions I had to make in Dancing on Coals after hearing back from beta readers would have been much, much easier in Scrivener. So I put Rachel’s Eyes in the program, played around with it a little, and switched.

I only use probably 5% of the program’s features, but I learn another one every time I need it, and I’m quite happy. Now remember about my plodding linear mind. I write by outlining a story I’ve developed in my mind. Not a formal or very detailed outline, but enough to make a skeleton that among other things proves I do have a story—beginning, middle, end—that will make a novel. In cases like the short story, Rachel’s Eyes, or the novella, Luke’s Eyes, just the outline shows that they aren’t novels. I always have some idea what I’m getting into—or not.

I have from time to time seen other writers say they “write out of order.” Some scene or another appeals to them right at that moment, so they write it, even though it comes much later, and they then have to fit it in. When I first heard of this, naturally I was appalled. How could anyone do such a thing? Well, I found out.

Below is a screenshot of what Scrivener looks like taken from what I did with Beautiful Bad Man. The colors are customizable and are mine. I had to take this from my desktop because that’s where I had the graphics program to turn it into a jpg, and it looks a little different on the laptop I use for writing, but it’s essentially the same.

ScrivenerOn the left is what’s called the Binder. You can build the skeleton of your work any way you please there. For me that’s chapters that serve as folders that only have subfolders in them that are scenes. The scenes have the text, and I have them color coded so the hero’s POV scenes are blue and the heroines’s pink (unimaginatively traditional, I know).

The Binder allows showing just the chapters or expanding the chapters to show the scenes. So I expanded a couple chapters in the screenshot to give you an idea. The truly lovely thing is I can move things around, add, and delete chapters and scenes, change them. Anything I want, and doing that easily in the Binder does it in the manuscript.

What you can’t see because the shot cuts them off are more folders for characters’ names and profiles, research, timeline, etc. So everything necessary for the book is in one place (I used to have printed out lists of characters, my outline, timeline and sometimes bits of research, scribbled all over).

So here I am, plodding along in my usual linear fashion in Without Words. Several chapters ahead of where I was I had a chapter labeled “Consummation,” and two scenes in that folder, one labeled, “Hassie Says Yes,” and one labeled, “Sex.” So I had an idea for the sex scene, and instead of making a note about it (you can see the area for notes on the lower right) and continuing along, I stopped and wrote the sex scene! Without beer! With the lights on!

I’m not sure what it means, and it’s true that when I got to that point in my linear fashion, I did have to revise to make things fit in with what went on before more smoothly, but getting to that point and having that scene done was such a good feeling! Wish I could say the same for the one I’m coming up on now.

The screenshot may look terribly busy, but for some reason that doesn’t bother me. There is a distraction-free mode one can get to with a keystroke that eliminates everything on the screen but the draft in the center section, but I never seem to use it. I like seeing the Binder on the left and knowing where I am. I like seeing the note card in the upper right that shows what I put in my outline and having the place for notes on the lower right.

So there you are, I had a non-linear moment.

~ Ellen

Green Romance

May 12, 2014

Thanks everyone who voted in the AAR Frontier/Western poll. I confess seeing Eyes on that list would not have surprised me. Eyes and Dancing would have a little but not a lot. The results they posted did surprise me a lot.

The books I voted for did pretty well. Two of my ten I knew had no hope of making the list, but I couldn’t resist voting for them anyway. Of the other eight, I think four made it to the Top Ten and three were in the next ten, so I was only disappointed over one. And before you ask, Jo Goodman’s The Last Renegade.

Right now AAR is updating their Special Title listings, and I couldn’t help but see right on their home page the six of these that they’re doing now:

(1) Green Romances; (2) Friendships; (3) Two-Hanky Reads; (4) Best Enemies; (5) The Limelight; and (6) Cross-Dressing & In Disguise.

I think I’ve mentioned here before the friend who says I have a plodding linear mind (and doesn’t mean it as an insult; his mind works the same way). My mind is also pretty literal, so if you want a snicker, I’ll admit I saw this and thought Green Romance?  What the heck is a green romance?

In the horse world where I spent so many years, a green horse is one that’s just broke. At horse shows they have classes for Green Hunters, and green is specifically defined by limits on amount of experience. So that’s where my mind went first. Virgin hero and heroine?

Then again, being of Irish descent, I think of green as having to do with Irish, and the heroine in Without Words is Irish in a time of considerable anti-Irish prejudice. So Irish romance? Didn’t seem likely.

Finally I hit on environmentally themed romance, and yup, that’s it.

(2) and (3) were easy, although (2) was a little more expansive than I expected. (4) is narrower than I expected if I got it right in my quick read. No feuding families, the H/h need to hate each other. I’ve started a lot like that, but I haven’t finished many.

(5) is pfft for me. I somehow missed the gene that makes people want to read about celebrities. If I see a favorite author has written a book featuring someone supposedly famous, that’s a book I skip.

(6)? Now instead of snickering, you can laugh out loud. I read only the “Cross-Dressing” part and didn’t notice the “& In Disguise” part, and I’m thinking, boy, they’ve been reviewing a lot of gay romance lately, but a whole category for cross-dressers?

See? Plodding linear, literal mind.

~ Ellen

Call to Action and Mini-Vent

April 16, 2014

Anyone who follows here or knows me knows how fond I am of AAR—All About Romance. I know it’s a site that reviews books, and when Sing My Name was first out no one there said, “Okay, let’s do Ellen O’Connell a big favor and review one of her books.” The book got reviewed in the usual course of what they usually do.

However, right at that time I was getting a lot of flack from the anti-indie crowd over things I didn’t do, and the fact is there’s no way to defend against that kind of thing. At one point I seriously considered giving up writing. So that DIK review was a tremendous and timely morale booster. I’ve heard it’s the first time they ever reviewed an indie book, and if that’s true, it just makes it better. I never submitted the book for review or asked them to review it (I did submit a request for Dancing and also one for Bad Man, although they haven’t reviewed Bad Man to date).

I also have good feelings because a lot of the AAR posters in their forums say nice things about my books, and the ones who don’t like them have the grace to be civil about it.

So… all that said. AAR is now doing a mini-poll to update their list of readers’ favorite “Frontier/Western Romances.” My initial reaction was how cool, wouldn’t it be great if one of my books made such a list.

Stop. Please read on. I am not about to suggest anyone hie to the site and vote for my books.

What I am about to do is vent a little. The list has not been updated since 2007, and this is the list of “Favorite Frontier/Western Romance” from 2007:

1. The Touch of Fire, Linda Howard
2. Only His, Elizabeth Lowell
3. Ride the Fire, Pamela Clare
4. Annie’s Song, Catherine Anderson
5. A Breath of Snow and Ashes, Diana Gabaldon
6. Prince Charming, Julie Garwood
7. Dream Fever, Katherine Sutcliffe
8. The Outsider, Penelope Williamson
9. Drums of Autumn, Diana Gabaldon
10. Texas Destiny, Lorraine Heath

Okay, I’ll confess right now I’m in that small minority of readers of the world who didn’t like Outlander. If I ever saw Jamie as heroic, and I don’t think I did, the description of red fuzz on his butt finished me off. I stopped reading not long after the beating. After that I skimmed a bit toward the end figuring to see how it ended and be done with it and hit right on a torture scene that absolutely gave me the creeps and that’s only with reading enough of it to get an appalled idea of what was going on. Talk about over my personal line for violence. (That’s not a review, folks. I didn’t read enough to review it. What I did read was long enough ago I may not be remembering clearly—maybe that red fuzz was on his thighs.)

It’s my understanding that Gabaldon herself does not consider her books romances. In the AAR comments on the 2007 poll, they say: “Technically Gabaldon’s book was neither a Frontier/Western Historical nor a Romance….” Okay, so why is it there? If a bunch of readers voted for a Regency on that “Western” list would the Regency get a place?

So where is Maggie Osborne? Where is LaVyrle Spencer? Where are others who wrote classic Westerns? Either not there at all or pushed down out of the Top Ten by books that are kinda sorta.

Maybe no one else in the world would look at that 2007 list and get as cranky as I did, but the fact is I did. And it’s now been several days since I first saw it, I’ve mulled it over, and I’m still cranky about it.

So this post is to urge you all to go vote. Surely readers who actually like Westerns can come up with ten real Westerns, and if enough people who do like real Westerns vote, the 2014 list will include nothing but.


P.S. I have not read Katherine Sutcliffe’s Dream Fever, which is mentioned as being set in New Zealand, but I don’t think just a non-U.S. setting keeps a book from qualifying as “Frontier.” If Quigley Down Under (Australia) were a book instead of a movie, it would in my opinion be one of the best Westerns ever. Then again, who knows, maybe that’s Tom Selleck-itis. One of my own favorites is Candice Proctor’s Whispers of Heaven (Tasmania) although the fact it’s hideously overpriced and not available for Kindle cools my enthusiasm somewhat although I know it’s the publisher, not the author that’s to blame (I had to get it from the library).


Does time bring changes?

March 28, 2014

A little while ago, I read a thread in a forum discussing violence in romance. I’m not linking to it here, since it mentioned Eyes specifically, and that discussion isn’t the sole inspiration for this post. Not only that, I’m not rebutting what was said but agreeing with it. I’ve thought about it before, and my ideas on the subject have been cumulative. Other forum threads and reviews and individual emails have mentioned the violence in all my books one way or the other. Eyes probably provokes the most discussion, but then it’s sold more copies than any of the others so more people have read it.

Needless to say, the violence in my books isn’t too much for me, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a point at which violence does become too much for me, and I agree with the person who speculated that age has something to do with it, that as we grow older we become less tolerant of mayhem. It’s certainly true for me.

I read a lot of mysteries and thrillers, and a while back simply cut out any story that features a serial killer in the way so many do. I don’t care if Kellerman’s Alex Delaware or Connelly’s Harry Bosch is after a serial killer, but I’m not reading those books that feature scenes in the killer’s POV. My tolerance for the good guy coming upon the violence and going after the bad guy is fairly high. My tolerance for being in the head of some pervert who’s busy slicing and dicing victims is non-existent. I don’t care if his mommy was mean to him. I don’t care if he was abused by an army of other perverts. I don’t want to see the world through his eyes. I don’t think I ever enjoyed those kind of scenes, but they didn’t always bother me so much. I used to read quite a few of those types of books. So is the change in attitude age, or is it been there done that and too darn often?

Another forum thread I saw recently talks about boredom with the books that reader usually reads. I have that too, and it’s one of the reasons I can’t stick to romance or for that matter to mystery, thriller or suspense. Surely in that case it is the been there done that syndrome.

We all draw the line on these things in different places, but is it a moving target for each of us? I think it is for me. For instance, I know I’m far more sensitive to any hint of coercion in romantic relationships than I used to be. Those of you who have followed my publishing adventures since the beginning know how my opinion of rape romances brought the wrath of the romance police down on my head, but as time has passed I’ve gotten worse. The experienced rake luring the dumb bunny virgin? Icky. The guy who sets out to ruin a girl so she’s in the position of having to marry him? Yuck. I want balance in relationships, but I also worry that leaves me with a much narrower type of relationship to write about. It sure leaves me with a narrower selection of romances to read.

~ Ellen





Ironing the Pigs

February 21, 2014

Well, it’s finally happened to me. A few days ago I received an email from a cousin I lost track of many years ago. The way this cousin found me, and an email address for me, is by finding and reading Eyes of Silver, Eyes of Gold. His first romance, and he liked it! (I’ll never get over being surprised when men like my romances.) We’ve been emailing back and forth for several days, catching up and reminiscing.

I think I’ve mentioned here before that my mother was Canadian. Our family vacations throughout my childhood were trips to Canada to visit relatives, and while we took side trips to other relatives, our main destination was a farm in Ontario. The memories my Cousin Peter and I share are primarily of those summers on the farm. Although we both grew up in New Jersey, he is two years older, we lived in different towns, and went to different schools, so we didn’t really see a lot of each other except for those vacations and holidays.

One of the memories I mentioned to him is of “ironing the pigs.” He doesn’t remember that one, which means it happened after he reached an age where he stopped coming with us every summer, and I wrote out a description for him. That made me think that maybe those of you who read here and who must have some affection for farm and ranch life to like my books would also enjoy the story.

To give you some background. The farm was one of the family kinds, and the family earned a living with a little of everything and anything that brought in some income. They milked probably about 20 cows, raised chickens for meat and eggs, had both sheep and pigs. They put up so much hay every year to feed their own stock through hard Canadian winters it filled a huge barn to the rafters. They also raised oats, wheat, and corn, and their garden must have covered at least half an acre, maybe more.

Their barn was one of those that looked ancient from the outside, weathered, no paint, and was built into a hill, all but windowless and very dark on the inside.

My cousins, Laura and Jim, ran the farm. That summer my grandmother, my mother, my sister and I were all visiting, and so were Laura’s brother Clare and his wife, Katherine. To appreciate the story you need to know that Katherine was not an appreciator of the outdoor life. She was from the south originally and considered Canada too cold, even in mid-summer. Except for this one, every memory I have of her is indoors, clutching a sweater around her shoulders.

That particular summer our visit coincided with a litter of pigs needing to be given an iron supplement. For some reason watching this appealed to all of us, even Katherine, and we all followed Jim and Laura out to the barn.

One of the challenges of ironing a bunch of piglets is, of course, keeping the ones that have received the iron separate from the ones that haven’t. So Jim and Laura dragged out a big iron pot, very big. Like the big boilers you see at picnics where corn is boiled for clubs or big events. The procedure was that Jim would go in the pen with the sow and her litter (remember this is an old, dark barn), catch a piglet, and hand it over the pen wall to Laura. Laura would then put a dose of the iron powder in the piglet’s mouth and put the piglet in the boiler.

Katherine and my mother volunteered to keep the lid down on the boiler to keep the piglets in. So we began. Have you ever seen piglets? These were all pink, and cute beyond description. Have you ever seen a mature sow? Not so cute and her back had to be hip high on Jim, who wasn’t a big man. Piglets, when chased around the pen, caught, and lifted, squeal. A lot. Loudly. A sow whose piglets are being chased makes grunting roaring noises that will convince  anyone not in the know she’s about to kill someone.

So the piglets squealed, and the sow roared, and Jim and Laura assured all of us non-pig visitors that the sow wasn’t going to kill him, although we had trouble believing it. Piglet after piglet went into the boiler, and all of a sudden there were enough of them that when they all pushed up on the lid, Katherine and my mother couldn’t hold it down. So Katherine sat on it.

Only a few more piglets, and they could still push the lid up, even with Katherine sitting on it, and at that point Katherine started squealing louder than the piglets. Maybe you had to be there and see this non-outdoorsy southern lady sitting on the boiler lid, little pink snouts pushing up all around the edges lifting her into the air as they squealed and she squealed. We all laughed so hard we could hardly stand, but in the end we did manage to keep all the piglets in the boiler until the last one was ironed. Jim was right, for all the noise, the sow didn’t kill him, and in the end she got her piglets back, at least for a few more weeks.

And in my family over the years we regularly used “ironing the pigs” as a reference point for just how funny a particular event was.


This is one of the few photos I have of Peter and me or for that matter any of us in Canada. I have no idea who took it or how I got it. My guess is I’m about 7 here and Peter 9.


Reviews and More AAR

January 24, 2014

When I sent the link to Luke’s Eyes, I thought (and probably mentioned here) there would be no way for anyone to really review. Wrong. Someone started a page for the novella over at Goodreads, so if any of you want to do a real review, you can do it there. If you decide to do that, say you hated it, say you loved it, say you were indifferent, but please by all that’s holy, don’t say “too short.” :-)

In the meantime, I have been remiss. AAR sent me another email asking me to help spread the word about their Annual Romance Reader Poll for Favorite Books in 2013. I’ve been thinking I’d do that soon and all of a sudden it’s almost too late. The poll closes at midnight January 26th, so if you’d like to do that, you need to do it a whole lot more swiftly than I posted this information. Last time, if you remember, their poll was for favorite romances of all time. This one is specifically for your favorite released in 2013.

Their current blog post has AAR reviewers talking about their favorites of the year. Into the Light got a runner up mention from one reviewer. So yay!

Their blog post previous to that made me sit up and realize I should pay more attention to the opening and closing of their Special Title lists. That post references their lists for American Indians, Animals, and Time Travel. Time Travel is out of my realm, of course, and some kind person or persons nominated Eyes of Silver, Eyes of Gold and Dancing on Coals for the American Indian list. However, Early from Beautiful Bad Man isn’t one of the pitifully few listed on their Amazing Animals list under American Historical/Frontier Romances, and I think he should be, so I need to stay awake and notice the next time that list is open for nominations.

This is the second time recently I’ve seen Eyes mentioned somewhere as a Native American or Indian romance, and I do understand why and after thinking about it agree with the categorization. However, I must admit I never thought of it that way when writing it or since. Yes, Cord was subject to racist attitudes and violence from others, but his mother died before he knew her, his father’s family raised him, and he didn’t have any background in his native heritage. To me Native American Romances are stories like Dancing on Coals. But I also never thought any of the problems in the Bennett family had anything to do with racism, and some reviews show me that others perceive that. Sometimes it still amazes me, but I do see that when each of us read the same book, each of us reads a different book.



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