I am thrilled to welcome back award-winning author Laura Drake with her novel, Nothing Sweeter, the second book in the Sweet on a Cowboy series.
Laura writes “emotional stories at the heart of the west.” You can visit her at Lauradrakebooks.com. Like her on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter at @PBRWriter. And find her blogging at Writers in the Storm.
The Sweet Spot, Laura's debut novel, won KT Romance Reviews Best Romance of 2013. You can find The Sweet Spot blog here.
Check out Publisher's Weekly Review for Nothing Sweeter!
“The second entry in Drake’s Sweet on a Cowboy series (after The Sweet Spot) is another character-driven contemporary western with more heart than heat. Rancher Max Jameson, stunned by the unexpected death of his father, is determined to keep the family spread in Steamboat Springs, Colo., despite pressure to sell to a greedy neighbor. His brother, Wyatt, tries to help out, though the sibling relationship is strained due to Max’s discomfort with the fact that Wyatt is gay.
Bree Tanner is scarred physically and mentally after being wrongfully convicted of and imprisoned for her ex-boss’s shady financial dealings; now exonerated and free, she decides to start over by helping to raise rodeo bulls on the Jameson ranch.
Max’s tough exterior masks relatable fear, his relationship with Wyatt is handled gracefully, and Bree’s genuine shame about her past makes her sympathetic. While Max and Bree’s romantic relationship is secondary to their internal and interpersonal struggles, complex characters and some fun bull-riding scenes balance out the seriousness.”
I’m so proud of Laura and her talent! Laura is a multi-Margie grad and an immersion grad as well. She’s worked hard for her well-deserved success.
Margie asks Laura: You recently returned from a book signing at the PBR event in Las Vegas. How exciting! Can you tell us what we missed?
Laura Responds: Signing at a bull riding event had been a dream of mine for quite some time. The finals in Las Vegas are accompanied by a "Fan Zone," a marketplace for fans for everything Western, and bull-riding themed. What better place for me and my books than that?
But it was a big commitment. Five days. 9-5. And then I had to rush off to the event at night! It was a whirlwind, and I was exhausted by the end. But I sold quite a few books, and almost better, met probably 400-500 people that might buy my books down the road.
They say nowadays, with all the distractions that consumers have, it takes 5-7 times to hear a name and recognize it. I went a long way toward that in a week!
Both pictures above are of Jory Markiss, one of the top 20 bull riders on the circuit. Jory won "The Longest Ride" competition for PBR's Sexiest Cowboy and his photo will be on the special edition of Nicholas Sparks' book, The Longest Ride.
Margie asks Laura: You are busy. Crazy-busy. Out-of-this galaxy busy. How do you manage your multiple deadlines?
Laura Responds: I work hard. Seriously. I'm working more hours now than I ever did when I had a regular job. Between plotting, writing, editing, corresponding, social media, website maintenance, promo, newsletter, etc., I put in about 60-80 hours a week.
And I love almost every minute of it. After all, this is what I worked 15 years to attain! It's the prize I had my eye on all that time, so I still sometimes stop and marvel that I'm getting paid to do what I'd do (and have done) for free! I'm so incredibly blessed. And lucky!
It helps that I'm compulsively organized (comes with the CFO side of me). I get up at 3 am and after I fire up the Keurig, I check emails, run the social media gauntlet, check stats, etc. Then I jump right into writing. I find if I leave it until later, life intercedes. It's really quiet in the early am, and I have the inspiration of classical music an the sunrise. How long I write depends on the day. I have a daily word goal, and on a good day, it may take two hours to complete. On a bad day, it's taken me 10 hours to achieve. Yeah, no one said it was easy. But I can promise, it IS worth it!
The crunch time comes when I have deadlines from both publishers, and believe me, neither of them care about the other's! I just keep my head down, and repeat my mantra, "One piece of paper at a time."
Margie responds to Laura: You are incredibly blessed, but luck has nothing to do with your success. You’ve worked for years to learn your craft and it shows in your work. You’ve taken a lot of my classes and attended an immersion. You dig deep and deep edit to make your writing shine.
Margie asks Laura: I’m curious. Which online course of mine resonated with you the most and why?
Laura’s Response: Wow, it's a toss-up, between Deep Edits and Empowering Characters’ Emotions. When people ask me where to start, I recommend Deep Editing first. That class was such an epiphany for me. It allowed me to step back and analyze my writing objectively—something I really struggled with. If you can't do that, you're at the mercy of any feedback you get. And all feedback is not created equal. Deep Edits put the power back in my hands.
Empowering Characters’ Emotions was just as important. I always knew the emotions I wanted to convey in a scene, but I didn't how to do that, except to use the sledgehammer of a character's tears. In class, you gave me finer tools, brushes and picks and small chisels, to show shades of emotions. Now I may use tears once a book while trying to go for none.
One of the reasons Laura’s books are so good are because she writes fresh. Fresh dialogue cues. Fresh visceral reactions. Fresh descriptions. Her word choices show shades of emotion. Check out the excerpts below.
Ugh. My first “Ma’am.” Aubrey smoothed her hands over her waist to be sure middle-age spread hadn’t begun since she’d gotten dressed that morning. Everybody looks old to a baby like that.
Middle-age spread. I love that. What female can’t relate?
A young man in a slouched jacket with spiky bleached hair and two diamond studs in one ear stood at the edge of their table. The jailbait draped on his arm wasn’t much better. The shiny, pink baby-doll dress hit her upper thigh, and her clunky heels made her feet look like canapés on the ends of toothpicks—tattooed toothpicks.
Canapés on the ends of toothpicks. Fresh. Fresh. Fresh! I’ve never read anything like that description. Laura uses amazing imagery. Can’t you picture this couple?
The man stared across at Bree and said in a California-hip voice, “Well Aubrey Madison.”
Bree’s jaw dropped open as if someone had cut the muscles.
What a vivid picture of Bree’s reaction. I can see her face, slack-jawed, in shock. Laura showed shock without every using the word. Showing the reader, not telling. Fresh writing. Powerful writing!
Margie asks Laura: You have so many fresh dialogue cues. Now that you have a few books out, is it harder or easier to write that fresh?
Laura’s Response: Oddly enough, it's easier to write fresh. It's like working out at the gym. In the beginning it's brutal-hard, and you're sore all the time. Now my 'fresh-writing muscle' is strong, and the cues come faster and easier. I love making up new clever ones!
Read through Laura’s dialogue cues below.
“We don’t need your boyfriend’s charity.” His voice sounded like a peach pit in a garbage disposal.
His low voice sounded the way sex felt. Languid Sunday-morning sex, with light slanting over a rumpled bed, and a lazy day that stretched on forever.
Wow. Wow. Wow!
Laura uses specificity in both of the above examples. Not just a grinding sound, but a peach pit. Not just sex, but languid Sunday-morning sex. Each time she adds that specificity, it triples the power in the dialogue cue and we hear exactly what she means.
Read the cues below and then close your eyes. Can you hear those voices?
As if the words were emptying her, her voice diminished to a breathy whisper.
His interest caught on the frayed-wire undertone of desperation in her voice.
His voice rumbled softly from the dark, like the comforting sound of far-off thunder on a warm summer night.
“No really, he came right to me,” she said in a little-girl I-have-no-idea-where-the-cookies-went voice.
Laura also uses visceral responses to invoke emotion in the reader. Visceral responses pull the reader right into the heart of the character. We feel how they feel. Enjoy the examples below.
“Well screw you both and your puffed-up male egos. I am so sick of caveman attitudes.” Her jaw locked so tight, the roots of her teeth ached. She was pissed that she had to fight tears. And even more pissed because she couldn’t stop them. Bolts of emotions cracked like lightning in her mind: anger, guilt, failure. Disappointment. Another lost opportunity.
She swallowed again, her queasy stomach churning like a washing machine.
Max’s stomach did a roller-coaster dive—without the thrill.
Laura amplified that last example. Read it again.
Max’s stomach did a roller-coaster dive—without the thrill.
She could’ve stopped at dive, but she took the sentence further and also added a snicker of a humor hit.
Last question for Laura: Writing fresh is crucial to getting a contract in the competitive world of publishing. But there is such a thing as being too fresh. Laura, how do you know when you’ve hit that perfect balance?
Laura’s Response: Oh yes, I cross the too fresh line some days. When I'm working at playing with words and being clever, instead of using the tool to show the reader something, I've gone too far. I may not see it at the time, but when I go back the next day, and read over what I wrote, I see where I got carried away. If you can see the author intruding on the story, you've gone too far.
Not only does Laura write fresh without going too far, but she is a master of compelling cadence. I’ll leave you with a few final examples of description, dialogue cues, and visceral reactions. Which are your favorites? I love them all.
He reread the note, holding it by one crumpled corner as if it were covered in anthrax.
“I suppose we could try that,” she said in a careful hostage-negotiator tone.
“What possessed you to put English tack on my horse?” Max said in the Donald Trump “you’re fired” voice that had scared off the last groom.
Her voice was quiet and slow, but hard as frozen concrete.
“Thanks, but I’ll be fine in the barn.” Her voice sounded harsh to her own ears, but nobody was going to dictate where she slept. Ever again.
“Oh yes. I’m so eager to spill my guts in such a warm and accepting environment!” Acid bit deep in her stomach.
She tried to ignore the tingle that spread from her palm up her arm, as if his touch had mainlined into her blood.
Thank you, Laura, for being on the blog today. I love sharing your incredibly strong writing!
Readers, it’s your turn to ask Laura some questions! Leave a comment and you’ll be entered in the drawing to win an online class ($50 value) from Margie and a copy of Nothing Sweeter from Laura.