August’s Featured Speaker: Julia Ganis

JuliaGanisColorAt next month’s meeting, Julia Ganis will speak about Editing for Indie Authors. She’ll address what to know, what to look for and what to avoid on your path to self-publishing. Plus, she will offer tips on self-editing for all authors, from absolute beginners to multi-published authors.

Join us at Bridges Academy in Studio City at 10am on Sunday, August 17th!


Julia Ganis has always loved a great story. A child of Hollywood, she read her first screenplay at age ten, devoured Jane Austen at the dinner table and snuck Harlequin Presents under the covers.

After twenty years of guiding screenwriters, doing script analysis, working in feature films and children’s television, and even teaching science, she decided to return to her first love:  romance novels.  A behind-the-scenes romance copy editor for several years, in 2013 Julia launched to offer her services to a wider sphere of indie writers.  Current JuliaEdits clients range from New York Times bestsellers with hybrid careers, to emerging self-pub authors and absolute beginners.

Julia graduated from the University of California at San Diego’s Muir College with a degree in Visual Arts/Media.  She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son and way too many cats. You can find her online at

March’s Featured Speaker: Mallory Braus

MalloryBrausNext month’s featured speaker will be Mallory Braus.

The topic will be What to Expect When You’re Expecting…Edits. Just like every story is unique, the edits constructed for each story will vary. Editors must adapt to the story needs — craft, story, prose/narration,etc — but also to the author’s needs — varying from debut authors to multi-published authors. Mallory will discuss the basics of what every author should expect from the editorial process.

Mark your calendar and we’ll see you at Bridges Academy on Sunday, March 16th! Doors open at 10am, and the meeting runs from 10:30am-12pm.

Mallory Braus graduated from UCLA in 2009 with a BA in English. From there, she became a freelance editor for Carina Press. She works with the stories she loves, authors she adores, and consider herself a sort of Indiana Jones—searching for treasure in the book world, and in the comfort of her office, safe from actual snakes and plane crashes.

Mallory has always had a passion for reading. But she never considered that the books she loved could lead to a future career. Until one fateful day she was offered an internship with a fabulous literary agent. A position as  intern for editor Rose Hilliard at St. Martin’s Press soon followed. She graduated from UCLA in 2009 with a BA in English. After a brief stay in New York, in which she discovered that city life did not agree with her, she returned to California and accepted a position as freelance editor for Carina Press. She also works as an independent freelance content editor and consultant. She feels so blessed to have found a job that lets her work with her one true love — stories.

Mallory will read just about anything — except horror. She’s especially on the look out for historical romance, mystery, sci-fi, urban fantasy, speculative fiction, and dark paranormals. More than anything, she loves character driven stories. Make her believe in your characters — give them real depth and vulnerabilities and quirks — and she’ll be putty in your hands.

You can follow her on Twitter @MalloryBraus or visit her website at

February’s Featured Speaker: Jennifer Haymore

JenniferHaymore2Next month, our featured speaker will be LARA’s own Jennifer Haymore.

The topic will be Writing Short(er).

Join us at Bridges Academy on Sunday, February 16th!

USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Haymore is the author of sexy historical and contemporary romance.

You can find Jennifer in Southern California trying to talk her husband into yet another trip to England, helping her three children with homework while brainstorming a new five-minute dinner menu, or crouched in a corner of the local bookstore writing her next novel.

January’s Featured Speakers: Susan and Harry Squires

At this month’s meeting, our featured speakers will be Susan and Harry Squires.

Did you ever wonder why one day you get stuck while on another day your writing flows easily? Does it sometimes seem like your brain is actually fighting you?  Well, maybe it is. Recent insights into the structure of the human brain and how the parts work together (or don’t) provide powerful techniques to free your creativity and jump-start your writing.

The Squires will help you learn how to use these techniques not only in your writing, but in the rest of your life as well. Bring your current work in progress, and they’ll show you how to solve problems (including writer’s block), make your characters and plots deeper and more resonant, and create a book that keeps your reader turning pages.

Join us on Sunday, January 19th!

SusanSquiresSusan Squires published seventeen books with Dorchester and St. Martin’s Press, and has self-published four. Her books have appeared on the NYT Bestseller list. Her first novel, Danegeld, was a Golden Heart winner. Body Electric was named by Publisher’s Weekly one of the most influential mass market books of 2002. No More Lies was a Rita finalist. Her books have frequently garnered 4 ½ star reviews and Top Pick from Romantic Times BookReview, and starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, which also named One With the Shadows a Best Book of the Year.

HarrySquiresHarry Squires published his first novel, What Rough Beast, as H. R. Knight with Leisure Books. A paranormal mystery with romantic elements, it garnered enthusiastic reviews not only from horror venues but also from romance reviewers. He also writes for Wine Adventure Magazine and Front and Finish. Harry was a corporate trainer with an insurance company for many years. He’s coached extensively on techniques of learning and unleashing the creativity of the brain.

Both Harry and Susan are members of Romance Writers of America.

Confessions of a Penitent Plotter: Finding the Bones of Your Book

Hello. My name is Leuca and I am a “pantser”. I can’t help it. Words just blast their way onto the page and I let them roar, full of energy, with no idea what will happen next. In short, I SPEW. What Nora Roberts calls, politely, a “discovery draft”. The emotions are pure; words are fresh. In this first effusion of story, characters build their dimensions organically, like blossoms unfolding. To me, my process is a thing of beauty.

Until – wham-o – it bogs down with a thud! Those lovely characters jerk to a stop, stare at one another and blurt: “What the #%*$ are you doing in my story?”

It’s time to haul in CRAFT, my handy toolkit of character tips and structure rules. Collected from many sources, I adapted them to a template I use to plot: Storytracker. Last fall I wrote a column about it and, to those of you who requested a download, I hope it’s propelling your protagonists into a happy-ever-after. If you don’t have a tool, here’s a guide to the elements.

Like most pantsers, I start with two characters, a setting and a thorny reason they are going to hate one another. I have a notion where they’ll wind up and three calamitous scenes that drive them off course. That’s it.

For a few days, I let the characters take root in my mind and begin to chatter, first to me and then to secondary characters they conjure up as buddies or foes. As soon as my protagonists meet and bicker, it’s time. If I don’t relocate them from my brain to a page, they’ll take over my brain. Thus, I write.

Halfway through my first book, I came to the stomach-churning reality that my characters had stolen my story and were wrestling me further and further from where I’d planned. Since they were doing an interesting job of creating lyrical twists, I let them have at it, but I devised a control mechanism to monitor rhythm and structure.

The Storytracker was born: an Excel spreadsheet that tracks character dimensions, plot points and, ultimately, points-of-view, scene-by-scene.

First, I build the cauldron: SETTING. Borrowing from Robert McKee, I choose LOCATION, DURA-TION, PERIOD and – the aspect often overlooked – political, socio-economic MILIEU. After all, even a simple “secret baby” plot is different set in an Iowa cornfield than in the gritty South Bronx.

Then, I inject fun: What kind of steamy hot water can I plunge these two really nice people into that will force them to spring up, sputtering, in mortal opposition to one another? Characters only reveal their true selves when forced to make an awesome choice – either between the lesser of two evils, or, if you’re a comic, two equally delicious possibilities. I need to force four choices to have a story.


1. The Inciting Incident – “Cute Meet”. This sets up the whole story – opportunity knocks big-time within the first 20-30 pages. It happens in brilliant “shows” – no back-story prologue; no omniscient “tells”; no musings from the heroine’s troubled inner voice. Al-though it can happen randomly or by design, it must be the worst – or best – thing that could possibly happen; it forces an immediate reaction that changes everything.

The incident commits the heroine to an urgent objective goal, one crucial enough to drive 100,000 words. Since you have crafted a hero she hates at first glance, it prompts her to swallow her pride or revulsion to achieve it. There’s still no romance. The tricky thing about the cute meet is that it must kindle a suppressed longing she won’t ac-knowledge, even to herself.

2. Foiled Pursuit. Act one finale, 25-30% through the book. Our job as romance writers is to make the journey to that heart’s inner longings painful and tortuous for the soon-to-be lovers. If romance came easy, what would it be worth?

Every “turning point” is a reversal that drives the characters further from the objective goal and deeper toward the longing. In the foiled pursuit, outside forces – nature or secondary characters – intervene and do something unexpected. Again, the characters make a seemingly impossible choice. Make this big – something each would have said at the beginning, “I could never do that!”

3. Point of No Return. Act two finale, 60-70% of the book. This is the horrible soul-searching moment when the heroine realizes she has exposed her heart’s deepest wound; she’s vulnerable. Right away, she swears to do anything to cover up the longing, but that will drive her even further from the objective goal. The heroine (and/or hero) runs away, literally or figuratively.

4. Climax or “Black Moment”. Act three finale, at the 90% point. This is the darkest hour where the heroine makes the heart-wrenching choice between playing it safe and risking her comfortable space to win her greatest desire – the hidden longing. Often, the objective goal becomes irrelevant when the choice is made.

5. Resolution: Aristotle wrote that endings must be “inevitable” and “unexpected”, delivering what the reader hoped for on Page One, but twisted. Resolution may be unnecessary be-cause the climax was conclusive, but if you need to deal with a dangling goal or sub-plot, keep it short.

November is time for the National Novel in a Month challenge ( Start plotting using whatever tool works for you. Six weeks and counting.


Leuca Stone is a long-time writer, first-time novelist whose new book is TIMBER FALLS about a beautiful scientist and a shape-shifting wolf.

BOOK REVIEW: “GMC – Goal, Motivation & Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction” by Debra Dixon

I‘ve been thinking a lot about contests lately, judging and being judged, and the driving comment is always: What‘s the GMC? GMC is so important it accounts for twenty-five per-cent on most score sheets. That it is that important is testament to a little, thirteen year old book: “GMC” by Deb Dixon.

Her message has become the Romance Writer‘s Mantra – beef up the GMC. Many new writers assume that juicy beefcake coupled with a sweet “meet” ground a good novel, but not true. Without GMC – goal, motivation and conflict – a story fizzles in chapter one. It needs the sizzle of goals thwarted by conflict to give it propulsion – and they must backed by big, wrap-your-mind around motivations.

What is GMC? In a nutshell: “A character wants X be-cause Y but Z. XYZ = GMC. This basic fact of story structure has been known and taught in Creative Writing classes for generations, but it took an award winning romance writer to deliver the message with a sock-it-to-me punch that made her sisters in genre sit up and take notice. Today, some carry everywhere like Bibles and my own copy is well-thumbed and highlighted in as many colors as Joseph‘s coat.

Dixon‘s book started with a series of workshops. As a result, it is written as colloquially as a classroom chat. Her advice “from a soapbox” is clear, concise, and easy-to-follow, tailored for writers of romance. Her basic thesis is that if you give each protagonist heavy-weight goals with “larger than life” reasons to achieve them, you‘ll have characters readers care about. Put those goals into dire conflict with a second protagonist, and your plot “becomes inevitable”. The book will write itself, scene after scene rising out of the conflicts between them.

We‘ve heard the premise many times. What make‘s Dixon‘s chatty little book compelling is that she tests our assumptions about when goals are good enough by giving us a step-by-step cookbook for assessing GMC, using familiar films for reference. A précis doesn‘t do her justice, but as a teaser, here is some of Dixon‘s advice:

1. GOAL. On page one, establish a main character‘s external goal and motivation ~ make the reader worry about whether or not the goal can be achieved. Make the goal urgent and important, so vital the character will “act against his own best interest and endure any hardship”, but the goal must be within the realm of possibility for the world you‘ve created.

2. GOALS: Internal/External. An external goal is practical and tangible – getting a job, going home; it has nothing to do with emotional fulfillment. The internal goal is intangible and seldom expressed aloud; it leaks into the story more slowly. Often, the internal goal arises from a wound and it may be redemption, acceptance, justice, love. Internal and external goals are often in conflict, but the two main character‘s individual goals must be. Try charting the characters‘ goals against one another. Do they clash? If not, there‘s no plot.

3. MOTIVATION. Behind every goal is a giant “because” – larger than life. External ones must be “simple, strong and focused”. Internal motivations are more fundamental – “garden variety” – they should resonate with any reader.

4. CONFLICT. This is the big “but” that stands in the way of a goal‘s resolution. Conflicts are zero-sum games where one character loses and another wins. That is, until the final “turning point” where the external goal drives the character into the “black moment” and a compromise involving the internal goals bring him out of it.

As a bonus, the book includes exercises to practice on your own or in critique groups: compiling the GMC chart, brain-storming to fine-tune plot, using “show don’t tell” in scene development, and practicing the “twenty-five words or less” handle for query letters.


 Leuca Stone is a long-time writer, first-time novelist whose new book is TIMBER FALLS about a beautiful scientist and a shape-shifting wolf. 

Marketing 101: First, Establish Your Brand

For twenty years, I was a marketing executive. Today, I teach marketing. The first principle remains the same: Who are you? In market-speak: What‘s your brand identity. Your message will be clearly understood only when it is wrapped in a brand.

What is brand? Expressed in a simple, focused statement – no more than three or four words – it is the sum of attributes, or unique selling points. Brand defines a product‘s personality; it establishes the product‘s credibility; it signals a set of buyer expectations the product will meet. In short, brand is a promise to be kept.

As a person, you are many things. As a writer, you are a product. And, from today forward, think of your writing self as your brand.

Let‘s look at some popular romance writers and what they stand for:

  • Nora Roberts Fast-paced passion in special settings
  • Jayne Ann Krentz Sizzling mysteries with a twist
  • Karen Rose Chilling, sexy modern suspense
  • Debbie Macomber Sweet, community-based, mature

Each of these writers is commercially successful, in large measure, because she has established a trusted brand. Readers know exactly what to expect when they pull a book off the shelf. When a branded writer violates an established brand promise, she often changes her name. Think of Nora Roberts writing sci-fi mysteries as JD Robb, or Jayne Anne Krentz, writing historicals as Amanda Quick.

So who are you? What‘s your brand promise? Let‘s look at a few brand dimensions in romance (See the Table Below):

GENRE Category Single Title Suspense Comedy Paranormal
PERIOD Chick Lit Contemp. Historical – Regency Historical – All Else Future
SETTING Other-world Rural Suburban Urban Glamour
TONE Light – Comic Light – Not Comic Medium – Good Girl Medium – Sharp/ Biting Dark
PACE (Ratio -Dialogue: Narrative) Classic: Up to 50% 50 – 64% 65 – 74% 75 – 84% Thriller: 85 – 95%
HEAT Inspirational Sweet Sensual Sexy Erotic
TARGET Young Adult Millennials – college Gen Y: 25 – 34 Gen X: 35 – 46 Boomers +

Pick one attribute from each row and you have the basics of your brand. It will look something like this: “Moderately paced, good girl contemporaries with rural country roots and sensual elements, targeting Gen X”. That fits Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Contrast that with Laurell K. Hamilton: “Fast-paced, dark and sexy contemporary urban paranormals targeting millennials.”

Your brand map is good start. Here‘s the secret to making it great. Add your differentiator? Hundreds of writers share your matrix. Your “voice” makes you stand out. A composite of factors – attitudes, moral values, thought patterns, language, rhythm – a writer‘s voice comes across in print and is unique as a fingerprint. Ask a friend or critique partner to describe your voice, then add its dimensions to your brand map.

Can you create a “tagline” from what you have? The shorter the better – Campbell‘s Soup: “mmm-mmm good”; M&M‘s: “melt in your mouth, not in your hand”. Play around with this until you have something you like. Market-test it on strangers and listen to their reactions. Once you‘ve got your tagline, you‘ll never stumble through the answer to, “What‘s your work like?”

In marketing, choosing a name comes after the brand identity is established. What‘s your name? Does the name you write under convey your brand attributes? For personal or professional reasons, do you need to adopt an alternative?

If you do, make sure you love it and it‘s a good brand-fit. You want to see this in print Since I‘m superstitious, I checked several options with a numerologist before settling on mine, but feel free to fly solo.

In the words of a fine agent, Jessica Faust of Bookends, use your name – always – and make it your pen name. Mention this name whenever you meet a stranger and repeat it during your conversation. Hand the person your business card.

You don‘t have one? Drop what you‘re doing and click on over to or You can have 100 beautiful cards delivered by next week for less than $10. Customize them with your own photo or logo, or choose from hundreds of design options.

Your next basic step is an email address with your pen name. If you‘re using another – and I‘m embarrassed to admit I am – set up a new one now and route your professional writing mail to it. Change your email signature line to include:

  • your pen name
  • any other name people know – at least until they get used to the change
  • any relevant degrees and awards: MFA, RITA finalist, national columnist
  • your carefully-crafted tagline
  • your blogspot, if you have one
  • your latest publication, if you have one

How do you do this?

On Outlook: Look under Tools at Mail Options

On Yahoo: From Options on the main mail page, Mail Options – Signature.

Congratulations! You are now a professional writer with a clear sense of direction. In future columns on marketing, I‘ll talk about the web and social networking, in-person networking and public relations, tools and tchotchkes, and expanding your brand.


Leuca Stone is a long-time writer, first-time novelist whose new book is TIMBER FALLS about a beautiful scientist and a shape-shifting wolf.

BOOK REVIEW: “STORY: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screen Writing” by Robert McKee

Robert McKee. The man is a legend. Opinionated – even potty-mouthed – this guy fills auditoriums in New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo and London, three or four times a year, at $595 a pop. The weekend I went, I sat between a TV star scribbling notes and a young couple from Australia who were sleeping on a web-friend’s floor to be there.

And, the man delivers. Spewing ideas out his mouth like shotgun spray, McKee packs more important story concepts into three, too-short days than a full MFA. He’s a product of Hollywood – story analyst, screenwriter, now big-budget script doctor – McKee imparts profound insights about story structure and conflict that suit novel-writing as well as film.

His book doesn’t pack the punch of his lectures, but at a mere $24.95, it’s ½ of 1% the investment and everything’s here, in the same form. I suspect the book is a direct adaptation, since his mid-sentence digressions are all in print, set off by dashes. McKee has so many ideas to impart that he speed-speaks. The resultant printed pages are crammed with good things to know.

Here are a few:

“Spine of the Story”. The unifying force that holds the story together and builds it through the character’s choices made under ever-increasing pressure. The choices reveal the character’s true goal. In most romance, the character’s unconscious longing for a mate forms the spine. In the film, “Working Girl”, the spine wasn’t getting the great job; it was getting the great guy. The function of story structure is to progressively increase pressure on the character until the true goal is revealed, conceded and achieved.

Turning Points. Every book or film needs at least four memorable scenes – the inciting incident and a climax at the end of each act: turning points, forced decisions that reverse course. Choices must present a dilemma between things important, but of similar weight. A choice between good and evil is no choice.

McKee asks, “What is the worst thing that can hap-pen?” . “No, the really worst thing? Make the characters squirm – we’ll love them for it.”

In talking about turning points, McKee introduces his most provocative – and difficult – concept: “The Principle of Antagonism”. Start with a story’s “primary value”. Here’s an interesting one: RICH. What’s the opposite? POOR. What’s between the two – more negative, but not opposed. MIDDLE CLASS. Now, at the end of the line, lies a powerful value McKee calls “Negation of the Negation”: something “not just quantitatively, but qualitatively worse”. What is qualitatively worse? Poor is passive. Amping it up implies action. How about RICH FEIGNING POVERTY? Or, in a less ironic mode, RICH GIVING IT ALL AWAY?

McKee suggests deepening a story by forcing a path through all four values. Ending on the negation is satisfying for two reasons – the character is acting, not reacting; and the value loops back to the pre-existing value of the beginning but with a wicked twist.

Conflict: It’s truism – story moves forward through conflict. To be richly satisfying, it needs multiple dimensions. To McKee, genre fiction exists at the level of complication – one dimension:

Internal Conflict Stream of Conscious-ness Inter-personal Conflict Soap Opera Extra-personal Conflict Action-Adventure; Farce Two “hallmarks of complicated tales are large casts and multiple sets. To deepen the work, add another level; better, show all three.

During his lecture, McKee recalled the trial of Plato during which the ancient philosopher argued that all the storytellers should be banished from Athens as dangers to society, for within the emotions of their art, they concealed subversive ideology.

To McKee, that might just be a good thing. He sees our responsibility as authors to simply tell the truth – a Platonic Truth, the essence or emotional core of the story. His book shares with us the tools to do it well.


Leuca Stone is a long-time writer, first-time novelist whose new book is TIMBER FALLS about a beautiful scientist and a shape-shifting wolf.

PROcolumn—Stop PROcrastinating—PROduce

It‘s tempting to rest on green laurels once you pick up that first rose for reaching PRO. When I first typed, “The End”, after 120,000 words, I felt a whoosh of release as I exhaled at last, and I fairly flew to the post office to mail off my opus. “I‘m a writer!” I cried into the wind.

Oh, puh-leeze. One simple little form letter rejection and I was back to the drawing board, refining and rewriting; refining and rewriting. The tome I wrote is pared down to a mere 97,000 words, lean and clean and spit-polished. It‘s been sitting on my desk, gathering coffee stains, as I‘ve mulled over how to make it that last little bit better.

Then, last year, I discovered St. Expedite, a dusty icon tucked in the darkest corner of an old neighborhood church in New Orleans, one dedicated for centuries to helping the hopeless. A ten-foot high bronze statue of St. Jude, their patron saint, stands in the courtyard and the church itself is dedicated to the virgin of Guadalupe, patroness of the poor. These I know, but who was this carved Roman soldier, wood dank with mold? I checked out his symbols. He was holding aloft – what? It looked like a sword held by the blade so its handle formed a cross with Latin inscribed: HODIE – today.

My tour guide laughed at my obvious puzzlement and said, “Do you have any idea who that is?”

I had no clue.

He suppressed a delighted guffaw: “St. Expedite”.

I gave him a baleful stare: “Right”.

“No, really.”

It turns out that sometime in the late 1840‘s a wealthy Cajun ordered four statues carved in France as a gift to the church. What with the civil war and embargoes, the boxes didn‘t arrive for another thirty years, by which point the old man had no recollection of what he‘d bought. There were four pine boxes. Three were neatly labeled on the side: Joseph, Lucy, Guadalupe. The fourth had no saint‘s name. The priests pried off the top and lifted out an almost life-size painted statue.

Who was it? They had no more clue than I.

The monsignor wrote to France. The cryptic reply the maker sent back? “We sent what you ordered.”

The priests hauled out the shipping box and looked again. There was only one word printed: “Expedite”.

And so it came to pass that a young soldier stamping on a dove whose banner reads CRAS (tomorrow) is venerated as the saint who gets things done. Fast.

Today, there are four of these statues scattered around the world, all carved at about the same time and opened with as much confusion. In the churches where they stand, their offering boxes are overflowing
and dozens of prayer notes are tucked between the ankles of the made-up saint.

No Expedite exists in the Catholic canon, but I don‘t care.

I dropped a crumpled bill in the box and took away a tiny metal disc with his likeness. For me, he has become my patron saint of To-do Now, a positive spirit driving me onward to write and submit; write and submit; write and submit.

Whenever I reach up to the thin silver chain around my neck and I finger the etchings on little medal, I feel emboldened to affirm, “This year, a contract – and another book, complete.

How about you? I have a box of St. Expedite medals to share with committed PRO‘s who need a spiritual boost – or, just a bit of old-fashioned, superstitious luck. It can‘t hurt to have a saint on your side – look what it brought a football team this week!


Leuca Stone is a long-time writer, first-time novelist whose new book is TIMBER FALLS about a beautiful scientist and a shape-shifting wolf.