Thursday, September 11, 2014


And that is why you should start your scene at the end.

Okay, maybe not exactly.

I understand all about building tension and dramatic structure. But, as a reader, I want to get to the good parts as soon as possible.

That's why, as a writer, I try to anticipate what my readers want most from a scene - whether it be action or a question answered - and I give it to them right at the top.

Starting with a big moment and then having to build upwards from there forces my scene to be more interesting (I hope). Plus, it gets rid of filler. (Like Elmore Leonard, I also try to "leave out the parts that readers skip.")

See what I mean with the current series of scenes at:, the novel that I am writing live in real time so that readers can find out everything about the process (and chime in their thoughts as I go along; after all, what's the fun of criticizing a book after it's been published and it's too late for me to do anything about it?).

More Writing Tips:

Live Sex Acts: Writer Exhibitionism

Writing Tip: Cut the Hysterics

Teaching Creative Writing to Teens

How To Write a Better Book

Putting My Writing Where My Mouth Is

How To Murder a Writing Career

I Hate Writing Description

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


On The Young & the Restless, Phyllis is starting to come out of her coma – just in time for her fiancĂ©, Jack, to fall for Kelly (ain’t that always the way?), while on Days of Our Lives, John continues to linger in his coma, despite wife Marlena’s medically innovative technique of spraying his hospital room with perfume to wake him up - trust her, she’s a doctor.  (BTW: This isn’t even John’s first coma. The last time was in 2007, after he was shot by EJ.)

Comas are so widespread on soap-operas that an international, peer reviewed medical journal, The BMJ, actually published a scholarly article, Epidemiology and prognosis of coma in daytime television dramas about the phenomenon.

Web MD then summarized their findings as: Casarett's team studied the depiction of comas on U.S. television soap operas from 1995-2005. During that time, 64 soap opera characters had what appeared to be comas.

Here's how those characters fared:

* Nearly nine out of 10 fully recovered
* 8% (five "patients") died
* 3% (two "patients") remained in a vegetative state

Those results are "unrealistically optimistic," write the researchers.

Perhaps the researchers would feel better if they knew that while, in the "real" world, comas are caused by trauma, on soaps, trauma is only a small, contributing factor to a character's comatose state.

My latest post for Entertainment Weekly reveals the real reason so many soap characters go into so many comas. Check it out at:

(I'm told I completely messed up the details of Marlena's coma, though the commentators can't seem to agree on what the correct story is, either. Maybe you can help?)

Tuesday, September 09, 2014


I write romance novels and women's fiction (plus Figure Skating mysteries but, for the purpose of this post, lets ignore them for now).

Romance novels and women's fiction have sex scenes in them.

When I started my live writing project at, I promised readers the chance to watch me type every word, every sentance, every paragraph; edits, deletions, dead ends, sex scenes and all.

Yup, I specifically promised sex scenes. (As I wrote on Romance Junkies, they really help grab a reader's attention.)

Yesterday, the time had finally come for my first one. With the software I'm using to live write, I can see when/if someone is watching.

Usually, I have no problem writing when someone is watching. In fact, that's kind of the point of this exercise.

Yesterday, it was time to really dive in (as it were) to the sex scene. I noticed that someone was watching.  And I froze.

Usually, I don't believe in writer's block. I just force myself to keep writing, muscle through, then go back and edit later. (The sad part is, in my experience, when you reread, the scenes that felt like they were flowing via divine inspiration and the ones you had to sweat blood just to give birth to sound exactly the same.)

But, this time, I couldn't do it. I've written in the past about my kids reading my sex scenes. I'm not too thrilled at the thought of my parents doing it, either. I'm pretty sure the people on with me yesterday were total strangers. But, nevertheless, I froze.

My personal motto is to do at least one thing I'm afraid of every day. It's character building (and rather unpleasant, if truth be told). Today, that thing is going to be writing that damn sex scene - while being watched.

Will I be able to do it? Will it be sexy? Will it even be readable? Stop by and find out at:

Heckling is optional.

Though understandable.

Monday, September 08, 2014


So – true confession time – I was one of those kids who went straight from “Little House” and “Ramona” books into romance and women’s fiction, bypassing the entire YA genre altogether. I read my first Sidney Sheldon novel at the start of 8th grade, and that was it for me.

Let’s just say the sex scenes didn’t hurt.

Around the same time, I remember the TV show, “Square Pegs,” featuring a high-school English teacher getting his students interested in classic literature by standing in front of the class and reading “the good parts” from “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.”

If it works for getting kids interested in reading, how about writing?

At age 13, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. A writer (like Sidney Sheldon). The problem was, there aren’t a lot of places where a teen can go to learn how to write romance novels (either with sex scenes or without). High school English was absolutely no help. Either we were diagramming sentences, parsing symbolism or perfecting our essays for the AP composition exam. Or my Creative Writing teacher was explaining that there was only one right way to write creatively – her way. And woe be it to anyone who dared disagree. (Despite my getting an “A” on every single one of my assignments, she tried to give me a final “C” for the semester, due to my bad behavior. Said bad behavior included disagreeing. Frequently.)

What I wished back then, more than anything, was that I could just sit and watch a real writer at work (preferably Sidney Sheldon), to see how they did it.

Back in the late 1980s, that wasn’t really an option. Sure, people put out “How To” books (I particularly enjoyed Lawrence Block’s “Telling Lies for Fun and Profit”), but it was all still mostly theoretical. I wanted to see the nitty-gritty, day to day stuff. I wanted to watch a story come together, so that I could learn from the process. Unlike most people, I actually wanted to see how the sausages got made.

With the advent of the Internet, things picked up somewhat. Writers would periodically put up drafts and get feedback from readers. It was a start, but it still wasn’t precisely what I wanted.

So, in lieu of a role model, I proceeded to just make up stuff as I went along. I wrote many, many books, and I sent them in to many, many agents and publishers. It’s pretty much what I did for the bulk of my college years (college English professors were about as helpful when it came to learning to write genre fiction as high-school teachers had been.  For most of them, genre writing wasn’t something that even existed, much less warranted being taught at an academic institution).

I finally sold my first book, a Regency romance to Avon, in 1994. I followed up with another Regency, two contemporaries, five figure skating mysteries, three soap-opera tie-ins and a few books of non-fiction. Finally, I was at a point in my life where I could become the writing mentor I’d so badly wanted in my youth.

The only question was: How? I did some research of what was already available, and I discovered that no one was doing exactly what I had once dreamed of: Writing their entire book live, so that it were as if you were literally standing over their shoulder, watching them type each word. Then stop, delete, write again. Stop, delete.  Delete the entire paragraph, followed by the entire chapter, then throw their hands up in the air. (What? Just me?)

I decided if no one was doing that, then I should. (Did I stop to wonder WHY no one was doing it? No, I did not. It’s one of my many character flaws.)

Read more about my live writing project,, at the Romance Junkies blog!

Friday, September 05, 2014


I don't put up with hysteria in my "real" life (whatever that may be).

If an argument escalates to raised voices, I walk away. (I've had bosses who were screamers, and I fictionalized that experience in my Figure Skating Mystery series. The louder they yelled, the quieter I got. They hate that.)

If my kids throw tantrums, I send them to their room until they can pull themselves together. (They hate it, too. Which is how they all learned tantrums don't work, and quickly stopped throwing them.)

And if I won't put up with hysteria in real people, I most certainly won't stand for it in imaginary characters.

Last week, I realized that the characters in the novel I'm writing live on-line (for your entertainment and educational pleasure) had pretty much the exact same argument twice, with the exact same consequences each time. I decided that was redundant, and so went back and cut the first argument. (Read all about it, here.) Cutting the argument meant changing the scenes that came afterwards, and the reconciliation that lead to the second argument (what's that saying about insanity equaling doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different results?).

I'm happy with the change (so far; I reserve the right to change my mind at any time), as it makes the story move faster and now has less filler between the "good parts." I'm all about the good parts.

I then spent this week writing and rewriting and rewriting again the argument that was left. It's a climactic moment in the character's relationship, and I wanted to get it just right. Four four days, I didn't feel that it was right.

Finally, I realized that it was too overwraught. The heroine gets upset early in the scene, and then it just builds and builds from there, until she sounds completely irrational. This makes the hero, who remains calm, seem like an insensitive jerk. Not exactly great character traits for the leads in a romance novel. (Though I do have the heroine call the hero out on it. And he does have his reasons.)

So, with every edit, I calmed her down a little, figuring Less is More. And More Less is Less More.

I'm not thrilled with the scene as it stands now. I am never thrilled with anything I write, ever. But I am okay enough with it to move on to the next chapter.

Then again, my opinion doesn't matter, only yours does. So tell me what you think. Does it work? Is it lacking something? Is it too much?

Leave a Comment at:

More Writing Tips:

How To Write a Better Book

Putting My Writing Where My Mouth Is

How To Murder a Writing Career

Wednesday, September 03, 2014


From the age of 7 to 24, I lived in San Francisco, CA. For four of those years, I attended a magnet high-school that was primarily Asian. Now, my oldest son attends a New York City high-school that's so predominantly Asian that the new mayor wants to change the highly selective admission criteria to "even things out." (To read what I think about that, click here.)

As an immigrant, Asians have always been a part of my American experience, which is why I was frequently surprised by their lack of representation in movies and television in general, and on soap-operas in particular.

My latest piece for Entertainment Weekly focuses on daytime's rather dismal record, including examples from The Young & the Restless, As the World Turns, All My Children, General Hospital and more, as well as where I think they've finally gotten it right:

Last week on General Hospital, Lucas and Brad’s post-coital Knot’s Landing binge-watch was interrupted by news of Maxie and Lulu’s kidnapping (as such things in soaps are wont to be). For some viewers, the big news might have been the sight of two men in bed together. Gay couples are still a rarity in daytime, and this one is, arguably, the most interesting and fun yet (feel free to disagree in the comments; I know As the World Turns’ Luke and Noah (or Luke and Reid); Days of Our Lives‘ Will and Sonny; One Life to Live‘s Kyle and Fish; All My Children‘s Bianca and Marissa; and Guiding Light‘s Olivia and Natalia have their die-hard fans).

But, for me, the even bigger news is that Brad is played by the Asian actor Parry Shen—and his storyline is, shockingly, not just about him being Asian! Brad being Asian and, for that matter, gay, are only parts of who he is, not his defining traits.

When the character was first introduced in February 2013, his sole purpose was to help schemer Britt fake a medical condition to snare a man (as such things are also wont to be in soaps). His being Asian or gay wasn’t relevant. He was merely a plot point, which, in the long run, turned out to be a good thing.

Read the complete post at:

Tuesday, September 02, 2014


From my guest-blog at:

All writers are given the same advice. Write your story, edit your story, polish your story. Make sure that only your very, very best work ends up in front of agents, editors, reviewers and readers.

Well, I followed that advice. I wrote, edited and polished many, many manuscripts. And I sent them out. And I got rejected. So I wrote and edited and polished some more.  And eventually, I sold. Regency romance novels, contemporary romance novels, figure skating mysteries, non-fiction, soap-opera tie-ins. I’ve published over a dozen books, including two NYT best-sellers.

But, here’s the thing: It was all trial and error.

When my books were being rejected, I didn’t get any feedback. I had to guess what was wrong. And I had to guess how to fix it. Afterwards, I’d get editorial notes. Some were specific and helpful. Some less so. (My personal favorite, from an editor who shall remain nameless, was: This scene doesn’t work. Make it work.)

When I was first starting out, I would have loved the chance to just shadow a professional writer and watch them go through the entire process, from first draft to publication, and hear their reasons for why this word instead of that one, why this scene that way and not another way, why begin here, why end there?

So I’ve created the resource I never had. is me writing my latest book completely live. Readers can literally watch as each word is typed. And erased. And rewritten. And misspelled. And then deleted along with the rest of the lousy paragraph. Maybe even the whole chapter.

The problem is, I am doing the exact opposite of what every writer is told. I am not putting my best foot forward. I am putting out my worst one. I want readers to see what I go through. All the missteps, the dead ends, the clunky prose, the boring characters, the laughable sex scenes.  And I want them to chime in with their thoughts so that I can make my book the very best that it can be – for them.

Read the entire piece, including the risk I'm taking - and the real reason I'm willing to take it at: