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A Texas town has banned the Harry Potter books because they glorify magic, and learning to read.
I read this book (okay, I skimmed it) called “Rules of Thumb” which I checked out from the library. My weakness, a book of writing advice: pithy little articles about writing better, writing more, you name it. One lady had four rules (clearly she wasn’t one for following the rules of the assignment, which was list one rule), and she had me until she mentioned she had the first three Harry Potter novels, but was currently using them as doorstops because she found them boring. Dull. Vapid and limp as milk toast.
It became obvious that nothing this woman had to offer after this point would matter to me. Even if she offered me the secret to plotting, her advice was tainted by the fact she didn’t get the magic that is J.K. Rowling.
Now I wasn’t always a Harry Potter fan. I came lately to the church of Potter, but I have all the zealot enthusiasm of a true missionary. So even though this poor, misguided author had no more use for Ms. Rowling’s writing than for keeping her bookends in use, I have to say my writing has very much improved due to Harry Potter. May you also benefit from Ms. Rowling’s advice, even if you never read her books.
First, be yourself. Write what you’re passionate about and what interests you, even if boy wizards are not the hip new trend on the publishing market and it will never sell. Believe in yourself first. Writing what you would like to read instead of focusing on writing "what is selling" is a far better goal--and far more likely, I believe, to get you published. Writing, as with most things, works better when you work to please yourself before you set to pleasing everyone else. You have to learn to trust yourself first.
Second, be quiet. Ms. Rowling is not a blabbermouth. When she started writing her series, she didn’t tell everyone and the milk man she was writing a book. No. Why? Because too much talking diminishes what you’re doing. You either spend all your time talking about the book you’re going to write (instead of writing it), or you tell people about your dreams, and they in turn give their well-meaning advice how you should do something more meaningful with your life rather than writing goofy novels. They’ll tell you to be a teacher…or an astronaut, anything but an author. And it’s usually those closest to you who give this advice because they don’t want you to fail and they don’t want you to waste your life on dreams that can never come true. So for God’s sake, don’t tell just anyone you’re a writer. Screen your confidants. You’ll thank Ms. Rowling later.
Third, be a failure. (Hey, she said it in her Harvard commencement speech.) Okay, she didn’t say be a failure, but she did say, don’t be afraid of it. Failure can be a good thing, a great thing, though it might not seem so at the time. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Be messy. So when you’re looking at your hideous first (or fourth) draft of your Great American Novel, going, why the hell didn’t I become a teacher?, revel in your Great American Failure. Ms. Rowling said she found out a lot about herself when she failed on the scale she did. She found out about her will to succeed, and that she had more discipline than she realized. She also found out who her true friends were. So when the rejects come back from your queries, they’re just there to remind you why you’re doing this—because you know you’re a writer and this is what you were truly meant to do. Right? Right.
Fourth, be empathetic. That’s the true gift of a writer, the ability to draw us so deeply into a character we truly believe they exist. We couldn't imagine a world without them. Their hopes, fears, triumphs and mistakes are as well known as our own. If you want to create an unforgettable character, tap into your empathy. To be a writer, you have to be willing to feel so you can share the human experience through your words.
Fifth, be a friend. This probably seems a weird writing rule, but it’s invaluable. After all, you will need to have someone you can tell your secret to; but also, you can’t live your life in a fishbowl. You need someone who can take you out of your writer geekiness and shake things up a bit. You need someone to challenge you; and you need someone at your back. Friendship is so important throughout the Harry Potter novels—and it’s important in your writing. You need a support system.
Sixth, be courageous. Harry Potter went to a forest and faced death. Luckily as writers, we don’t necessarily have to be that literal, at least not right this second. But the Fear is always there. Fear of being rejected by every single agent in New York and fear of letting down your friends who do support your wild dreams of NYT's bestseller stardom. Fear that your family will read your work and see just too much of you in the pages. It’s like being naked in public. Streak, baby, streak. There is something very freeing about being naked. You’ll survive the Fear. Harry did.
Seventh, and finally, be consistent. In the second novel, Harry despairs that he’s not a true Gryffindor because the Sorting Hat wanted to put him in Slytherin, and wise, old Dumbledore says, “And why is that?” Because, Harry confesses, I asked to be put in Gryffindor. “Exactly! It is our choices, Harry, far more than our abilities, that show us who we really are.” How many talented writers do you know who give up because it was easier? And how many published authors do you know that you wonder how on earth did they ever get an agent? Talent is important, yes; but luck and perseverance is even more important. And Harry would be the first to say that. There will be days where you ask yourself, “Am I really a writer?” It’s not about whether you have the talent to write; there isn’t anyone who’d deny it—it’s about if you do it. Writers are writers because they write.
Okay, come out of the closet: have you or have you not read the Potter books? What’s your favorite childhood book, and how does it inspire you in your writing or life? And do you agree that it’s our choices far more than our abilities that show us who we really are?
Hellion: *punches button to play spooky music* Welcome, pirates and ‘lubbers, it’s that time of year again—that’s right, Hellion’s most favorite time of the year!
Jack: You mean when we sail into Tortuga to stock up on rum?
Hellion: …Hellion’s SECOND most favorite time of the year: Halloween. And to kick off the month of October in a spooky and festive way, we’ve brought Mindy Klasky, author of the fun, witty, and dare I say, charming books about a witch named Jane Madison. Her newest novel: Magic and the Modern Girl hits the stands today (September 30, run, run, run and buy it now), and I cannot wait to read more about the hunky David, her warder. Say hello to Mindy!
Crew: Hello, Mindy!
Mindy: Hello Jack, Hellion, and the Crew! Thank you so much for having me here today!
Jack: Would you like some rum? *handing Mindy a drought of grog which she takes, looking at the mug dubiously*
Hellion: Mindy, I’m so glad you agreed to let us interview you today. I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed your series so far. Okay, so I can: I loved them! They were awesome! (They remind me of a paranormal version of Hester Browne’s Little Lady series.) For those of the crew who haven’t read the first two books, can you tell us more about Jane Madison and her merry adventures into being a witch?
Mindy: Jane Madison is a librarian in Washington, D.C. The library where she works, which specializes in Americana, is so underfunded that they need to cut Jane's salary. (They also need to lure people in by having Jane dress in colonial costume, and by featuring expensive coffees at an in-house snack bar.) In fact, the salary cuts are so severe, that Jane can't afford rent on her lousy apartment – but the library comes through, letting her live rent-free in a cottage on the library grounds. Only after she moves in does she discover a secret stash of books in the basement – books about witchcraft. Jane's first, inadvertent, spell awakens her familiar, a snarky man who spends part of his life as a black cat. Her second one is a love spell, which goes awry rather dramatically. After that, things get, um, interesting.
Hellion: Interesting. *laughing* Yeah, that’s an understatement! What is Magic and the Modern Girl about? And do you plan to write any more in the series?
Mindy: In MAGIC, Jane has let her powers lie fallow for several months, as she tries to get other aspects of her life under control. As a consequence of not being used, Jane's magic withers; her runes crumble, and her books fade. Jane realizes that she needs to use the last remnants of her power on one last-ditch spell. When that working doesn't turn out as she plans, Jane has to stake everything on her survival as a witch, dragging her familiar – Neko – and her warder – David – along for the struggle. Along the way, she encounters true love, re-engages in battle with her self-centered mother, and agrees to be a bridesmaid at her octogenarian grandmother's wedding.
At the moment, I don't have other Jane Madison novels in the pipeline, but I know that there are more stories waiting to be told – if my readers ask for them loudly enough that my publisher hears!
Hellion: What is your next project? Anything new and exciting you’re working on now that you’d like to share?
Mindy: The first book in the As You Wish series will be published in October 2009. THERE'S THE RUB is about a stage manager who discovers a magic lantern while she's cleaning out a prop closet. She releases a genie who begins to grant her wishes – only to make her life substantially more complicated than she ever dreamed it could be.
Hellion: *snortal* OMG. Yeah, that would be the luck, wouldn’t it? Wishes are complicated buggers. Okay, changing the topic slightly: I cracked up at your biography. I’m impressed you went on 28 first dates in one year. (I went on this date once with a guy who showed me a video of him shooting a pig….)
Jack: You went on a date? Without me?
Hellion: *bats at Jack* Anyway, I was just curious if you’d share your funniest, worst date story?
Mindy: My worst date stories are folded into the Jane Madison series – every single one of Melissa White's first dates has an element taken from one of my own first dates. And then there's the romance in my life that tracked Jane's encounter with her Imaginary Boyfriend…. Let's just say that the fictional apples don't fall far from the real-life tree!
Hellion: I do the same thing! All right, I haven’t worked the Pig Guy into my fiction yet, but just wait. Okay, back to more writing stuff. What’s your process like? Are you more a pantser, plotser, or plantser? (i.e. do you write without an outline, with an outline, or outline about three or four chapters in advance, then write…)
Mindy: My first six novels (five traditional fantasies published as the Glasswrights Series and one stand-alone fantasy, SEASON OF SACRIFICE) were written entirely as pantser works – I had a three-sentence idea of what would happen in the books, then I rolled up my sleeves and wrote.
The Jane Madison Series and the As You Wish Series are plotser books – I had fairly stable outlines in place before I started writing them. (With the Jane Madison Series, I created spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel. With the As You Wish Series, I'm using software called Scrivener, which runs on Apple computers. Scrivener supports outlining, note-cards, and synopses in easily manipulated files.) I changed to a more outline-based style because my publishing contracts changed – I now get paid a portion of my advance when I submit a working outline of each novel. Having the structure of an outline in place makes me a more confident writer who can complete work faster, so I'm pleased with the transition.
Hellion: What was your Call Story? (We love Call stories on the ship….)
Mindy: Ah, the Call….
On March 31, 1998, I signed a one-year contract with my agent, Richard Curtis. That agreement expired on March 31, 1999, without his having sold my novel, THE GLASSWRIGHTS' APPRENTICE. The day after the contract expired, I was working in my law firm's New York office when I received email from Richard, with the subject "A Bite." The text of the email said that an editor at Roc (a PenguinPutnam imprint) was interested in APPRENTICE, but she wanted a three-book deal. He had told her that I had sequels lined up, and he wanted to discuss those sequels with me.
After screaming, I tried to phone Richard, but he'd already gone home for the day. Trying to distract myself, I decided to attend a Broadway play. Halfway through the first act of a murder mystery, I realized that the date was April 1, and that Richard's email could be an elaborate April Fools' Day joke. I was unable to watch the rest of the play; instead, I stayed up all night, debating whether my agent was the cruelest man in the history of the world.
Fortunately, he got to the office early on April 2, and I learned that he wasn't a sadist. We worked out a couple of paragraphs describing sequels to APPRENTICE, and the deal was done!
Hellion: *laughs* You poor thing—though I can’t imagine an agent being that cruel, well, not about that anyway. Still, I understand the suspicion. *grins* Okay, your Glasswright series. Let’s talk about them some more. While the Jane Madison books are also a sort of fantasy, they do seem to be completely different in setting, tone, and writing style than I imagine the Glasswright series. Am I right? And how hard is it to write in a complete different “voice”? (Or is your voice similar in both series?)
Mindy: My voice is very different between my traditional fantasy novels and the Jane Madison Series. The Glasswrights Series and SEASON OF SACRIFICE are relatively dark novels where bad things happen to good people. The tone is fairly formal, and there's little attempt at humor.
By contrast, the Jane Madison Series is intentionally light-hearted (as is the As You Wish Series.) Each individual volume raises serious questions about the nature of friendship and love and social bonds, but the characters express a sort of wry amusement that would never fit the dark, feudal world of my traditional fantasies.
I enjoy being able to move between settings. While I'm working on the As You Wish series, I'm also toying with a new epic fantasy novel. I'm trying to bring some of the feeling of my contemporary humor writing to a traditional fantasy world, striving to give characters a humorous slant, even as I keep the jokes appropriate for their medieval world.
Hellion: What has been your favorite part of writing this series?
Mindy: I love writing the scenes with Neko, Jane's feline familiar. He gets most of the good sarcastic lines, and his absolute freedom to say whatever he's thinking about Jane's appearance, love life, and magical skills gives me a good chance to sharpen my wit. (Neko knows much more about fashion than I do–I often need to do some online research to perfect his snarkiness!)
Hellion: *laughs* That cat is hysterical. Mindy, I just wanted to thank you again for interviewing with us today. Oh, one last question: what is your favorite part about Halloween?
Mindy: I love seeing kids in homemade costumes, and I adore clever adult costumes (one of my favorites: "Dry Cleaning", wearing a dry cleaner's plastic bag over the shoulders, with the paper tag stapled to the bag, and a hanger cut out as a head-piece.) I also really enjoy the "trick or treat" aspect of the holiday, with surprises coming from nowhere. To that end, I'll gladly give away one copy of one of the Jane Madison books (winner's choice of GIRL'S GUIDE TO WITCHCRAFT, SORCERY AND THE SINGLE GIRL, or MAGIC AND THE MODERN GIRL) to anyone who answers in the comments, stating their favorite thing about Halloween! (The winner will be chosen at random – leave your email address in your comment or check back here to see if you're the winner!)
Hellion: Wooot, free booty! You might as well have said: free rum. Speak up crew: what is your favorite thing about Halloween? And don't forget to run out and buy the latest in the Jane Madison series...it's in stores today!
Romance is about relationships. No matter the genre, if you write Romance, you're writing about relationships. The obvious focus is the relationship between your hero and heroine. But there are many other relationships in our stories. And one of the most complicated, sometimes more complicated than the one between a man and a woman, is the relationship between female friends.
In my WIP, my heroine's best friend plays an important role. As the relationship between the hero and heroine grows closer, the heroine and her best friend grow further apart. It starts with the heroine not completely confiding something to the best friend, and of course, the best friend knows right away she's holding back. We always know. It eventual spirals into the best friend saying horrible things to the heroine and then seemingly doing the worst thing imaginable. Lets just say, without the best friend, I wouldn't have a black moment.
Then there's the relationship between family members. Friendship is complicated, but we all know you can walk away from a friendship and the result is you're no longer friends. You can walk away from family all you want, you're still family. There's an invisible connection that cannot be severed. It can be frayed down to a single thread, but it's almost never broken.
This is the one area of a story where I believe real life experience comes into play. If you've reached the age of six, you've experienced both friendship and family ties. In most cases anyway. I admit the best friend in my story is based partially on a real person. And the problems with the friendship are based in reality. In another story I have planned, there's a difficult relationship between two very different brothers. All kinds of reality will go into that one.
Do you spend a lot of time on these kinds of relationships in your stories? Or do you stick solely to the hero and heroine and not think much about the secondary relationships? Is there an author you think does these kinds of relationships well? I instantly think of the amazing groups of female friends and the sisters that Eloisa James creates.
As always on this ship, we are dedicated to integrity, high moral fiber, and tastefulness. (*looks aside at the teleprompter* Tastefulness? Really? Oh! Yes, of course, never mind.) Oh, and themes, of course, so with Marnee talking about sex yesterday; and Sin talking about sexual tension at her place of work, I thought…well, there wasn’t so much thinking involved as a lot of gossiping. If I might have your indulgence.
Some weeks ago, at Vauxhall, we were talking about cocks, and we were lamenting that there aren’t a lot of cock odes. Like, there are no cock odes.
Which is really odd, considering how well thought of they are by their owners. And, er, their borrowers. As it were.
I thought there’d be rows of books about them, all in pentameter rhyme; but my search for penis poetry proved fruitless. (I do promise to endeavor to keep searching.) In the meantime, someone (*Terri*) suggested I write one. Although I don’t know why she thinks I’m that familiar with them.
Still, I don’t like to back down from a challenge, so I thought I’d try my hand at it.
No pun intended.
Right. Enough dawdling. Here goes…nothing.
Hellion’s Ode to the—er—You Know
I admit in the past, I’m the
Sort of lass who circumvents
And perhaps when handed Time,
I’m not always well-spent.
But I’m willing to make up for past sins
And give into your hints:
I never guessed happiness could come
In six-inch increments.
Now I’ve, er, egg on my face,
But I’m feeling sublime.
Now I’m sated, recreated,
And every other male line.
Oh, how could I have feared something
That only wanted to show me a good time?
Waller’s right, for the waste of all
Previous opportunity was surely a crime.
I’ve found a new way to measure time
Than with the tick of a clock;
I’d boast I could do this all day,
But I’m not sure I could walk.
If I admit I’m now addicted,
Do you promise not to mock?
I promise hencefore to give my gratitude
To a well-thrusted c—
Yeah, it’s not Shakespeare, but I should get a few marks for enthusiasm. Now the questions of the day (um, no, not your favorite cock story…though I might enjoy a limerick or two): in romances, what is the most ridiculous word you’ve read in reference to the…well…our topic? Throbbing manroot? Pulsing spear? What? If you write, how do you handle the situation? Ambiguously or with, uh, bold wording?
And as an aside, is it wrong I think it’s hysterical that my ex-boyfriend hates the word “cock”? Which I found out while a few drinks the worse at some happy hour and then proceeded to insert the word repeatedly into whatever I was saying. Yes, he brings out my petty side. So aside from ridiculous, what references draw you out of a sex scene? And we don’t have to pick on the men either, I can list several female terms that does not enhance a scene for me. *LOL*
And to raise the level of this blog slightly out of the gutter, I would like to point out that Eloisa James' Duchesses series have been "name dropping" some amusing slang for use. Pizzle, for instance. And prick. I should point out she was not name-dropping within the sex scene--I think Ms. James chooses the more ambiguous way of referencing...a sort of "I'm assuming you know which sex has which part and where the parts are fitting" assumption.
(I figured that title would get this crew's attention.)
Revisions continue for me. But as I plod my way along, I’ve debated including another sex scene.
That’s right lads and wenches; I’m going to talk about sex today.
I’ve read thousands of novels. I’ve pretty much read about every position, caress, action, etc that a romance novelist feels comfortable including in a book. So, for me, gratuitous sex in books gets skimmed over the same way gratuitous description does.
I may be being harsh, marginalizing some very good gratuitous sex scenes. I’m certain there are plenty of sex scenes out there that were nearly superfluous but I trudged my way through, you know, for the continuity of the book, of course.
But I’m speaking on the whole here.
In that way, I think if I'm to avoid having the sex scenes I write get skimmed, these scenes need to “do” something for the plot, just like every other scene in my story.
I’ve come to a point where an emotional change occurs between my characters and I think the best way to make that change is during a sex scene. My hero pulls away from my heroine, but currently my story doesn’t show him doing it and I was thinking the best way to show that would be for him to pull away from her in those moments that humans feel the most vulnerable: while in the arms of someone they care for greatly.
How about you? What do you think makes a good sex scene and what makes you skim? Do you ever skim or is it just me? What do you like the best about sex scenes? What kind of sex scenes do you have in your story?
This week one of my favorite TV shows comes back on the air for the new season. I fell in love with The Office in its first episode (American version- Sorry, Q). The quirky humor and banter reminded me of my days back in retail. The way you have to learn how to co-inhabit a working space without killing someone in eight hours and the bond you develop over years of working for the hell hole. You develop relationships with people even when you’re not trying to, whether you hate their guts or want to push them against a wall in the warehouse and have your wicked way with them for an hour. These are the relationships that keep you going through those torturous eight hour treks into your own person hell. And these are the types of relationships we convey back into our writing.
I watch The Office for the humor, mostly, but most important to me is the relationship between Pam and Jim. Pam is the front desk office coordinator (I will not use the dreaded word that starts with an “S” and don’t you dare either.) whose desk is adjacent to Jim’s desk. Jim is a sales rep who spends most of his time thinking up ways to torture his desk mate, Dwight- the dork. Pam and Jim start out as co-conspirators. In order to keep themselves sane around all the insanity that is The Office, they institute practical jokes focused on Dwight. Dwight is a thorn in Jim’s side. He’s always trying to steal his sales. He’s a kiss ass to the boss (which this is not a good trait with any employee, but even worse when your boss is Steve Carroll’s character) and he is a know-it-all.
So they start as friends. They take breaks together. They share jokes. They have fun. It’s innocent. New. Fun.
And then they kiss. Pam and Jim on the rooftop with soda and pizza and fireworks.
But there is a complication. Pam is engaged to the warehouse supervisor.
So Jim pines away. And Pam shoves her attraction deep down inside. They still remain friends. They still joke and laugh and have a good time, but you can always feel the tension bubbling at the surface, threatening to boil over. I’m begging for it, “Please. Please by all that’s unholy, kiss her again. Make her see that he’s all wrong for her. Please Jim. Don’t let her go.”
But Jim is a good guy and Pam is shy.
Every time I watch this show I can’t help but smile. Years ago I had an interoffice romance that was nearly the carbon copy of Pam and Jim. If you could’ve taken script of our conversations, you might find the same kind of bantering and joking. We went on breaks and helped each other get through the long days of monotony and boredom. Times spent in the warehouse avoiding the managers were some of the best days and some of the worst days depending on the conversation and teasing.
But it never went any further. I was shy. He was giving me space.
Until one night he kissed me in the dark.
What they don’t tell you about those types of relationships, the only way to ignore it is to pretend it never happened and that’s much easier said than done. You can’t blush whore red every time he looks at you and pretend nothing has happened between you.
So the chase begins. Do you ignore it or do you pursue it? Do you lick your bottom lip when he looks at you or do you make a joke about how he’s got pizza sauce on his company shirt? When you think that it will turn you inside out, the unthinkable happens. It no longer becomes a choice. It becomes the air you breathe. You wake to see his face and to hear his voice. It’s like you’ve suddenly become possessed, obsessed with being at work so you can see him.
He feels the same way. You can see the look in his eye when he looks at you. The way he smiles at you from across the store. You get butterflies when you talk to him. The thought of actually moving away like you decided six months ago is tearing a hole in your heart. He doesn’t try to talk you out of it, deciding instead that he can come visit on the weekends and you agree a little too quickly.
Walk away, you tell yourself. Walk away before you ruin what you’ve got.
Ask him out! It’s that pesky little voice in the back of your mind that’s always getting you into trouble.
I hear you wore sweatpants to the club the other night, he says.
You laugh, because that’s what you’d normally do and there is a little part of you that’s glad he didn’t see that tequila drunken escapade.
Come to the club with me, he says. Wear your sweatpants, I don’t care. I think you’d look hot.
You give him a saucy look and suddenly realized when you turn to leave, your escape route has been blocked by refrigerator boxes. He’s standing in front of you, looking down into your eyes looking dark and sexy and you lick your lips because suddenly your mouth is dry.
The silence is only perpetuated by the fierce thumping of your heart. The warehouse is vacated in your time of need. Being alone with him is a very bad, bad thing. Friends first leaves you with no barriers to guard yourself against advances, even if they are wanted- really wanted.
Sure, you squeak and slip past him.
He laughs, I wasn’t going to kiss you.
You don’t answer. Instead you toss a saucy look over your shoulder and high tail it out of the warehouse like hell hounds are nipping your heels.
You think about it all day. You think about the look in his eyes all night. And the rest of the week while you avoid him. He’s avoiding you too. You can tell. You can’t tell if it’s a game of cat and mouse or if you scared him off. The only way to find out is to jump right in and go out to the club.
So you do and you find out it’s not a game. Oh, it’s really not a game.
On Thursday, I will find out the fate of my favorite TV interoffice romance Pam and Jim. Jim was going to propose to Pam in the season finale but another couple ruined the mood. Where will they go from here? I don’t care but I do know the ride getting there is one helluva one and I can’t wait to see what kind of fireworks explode this year.
What sort of relationships between your hero and heroine do you like to write? Been friends for years, weeks, months, days or strangers destined to be together? Readers, what’s your favorite relationship to read about? Or if you don’t want to talk about that, how about your own story of interoffice romance? And remember its Wednesday. Wednesday are scandalous days *wink*
I was sitting in Sin’s quarters, dining on that delectable cuisine by those Make a Run for the Border people and discussing [i.e. bitching about] my job. My real-life job as a student coordinator at a University department. Only that’s not my official title—it’s what I do—but my title is much further down on the pay scale and food chain. Hence part of the whining. Sin was bitching too, though she’s smarter than me about making sure she is titled appropriately at all times. (I know, I was amazed as you are to find out that Sin has a full-time gig when she’s not being an International Secret Spy Assassin for Anarchy Now! I don’t know how she has the time.)
We do this a lot when we get together, because when 40+ hours of your week are spent at one place with the same people, that says a lot about you as a person. It defines you, to a degree, even though being the department’s HAK (Holder of All Knowledge) doesn’t exactly factor into your daily brag list.
You can find all sorts of characteristics about a person through their job. Are you a people person? (Oh, hell no.) Are you a diplomat? (Clearly not.) How are you at managing people to get the day-to-day crap done, without having people micromanage you to death? (This, I’m pretty good at. Mostly because I frighten people until they leave me the hell alone so I can do what they’ve requested.)
Sin operates a lot like this. Only she hears my stories and says, “You’re too damned nice. I would have been fired by now. Actually, I would never have been there because you couldn’t pay me a million dollars an hour to put up with the crap you put up with.”
What does this say about Sin? It says she’s a smart person who knows exactly what to say to her best friend when she’s whining, yet again, about her job.
What does it say about me? It says I have all the career ambition of a gnat. The business world, even in college academia, holds little to no appeal to me other than paying my bills. I do not wake up in the morning and go, “Golly, I can’t wait to file some programs of study and show Dr. Spritzor how to copy and paste within a Word document.” It’s a job. I have the same attitude about work as Red Foreman relates to his son, Eric: “It’s called work because it’s work. If work were fun, it’d be called Happy Fun Time.” I have no illusions about what I do for a living.
The point of this being: if you want to know your characters, give them a job. How they take their coffee is not nearly as enlightening as how they deliver customer service.
I’m as guilty of this as the next writer—guiltier actually—because basically every heroine I’ve had has a job similar to mine. They’re either career students or secretaries. I don’t have CEO heroines because I think “what a dismal job”—and I don’t even like to read about heroines who are CEOs. (I know, I have many prejudices.) But whatever—give the character a job of some sort. Have them flip burgers, have them be discovering the cure for cancer—what are they doing? It tells so much about them. It gives some credibility to the character. Otherwise, are all modern day heroines trust-fund babies? What are they doing with their time? Just how many parties can you go to?
Quite a few, I admit…but still.
Tell your characters to get a job already. They need to pull their own weight. And if your character is single, she’s probably not writing full-time as a struggling novelist. Oh, no, she’d at least have to be a vastly successful novelist. Too many modern novels run that risk of sheer disbelief as Friends, which most all of us loved (I did), but the girls were living in an uber-expensive apartment in New York—and one worked as a waitress and the other worked as a chef’s apprentice? What? I could barely afford to buy coffee in New York when I was there and I get paid a little better than a waitress.
Do you vary your characters’ careers? Are there some careers you just can’t imagine doing (don’t want to imagine doing) and thus don’t give your characters? Anyone else tired of CEOs or trust-fund babies? Is there a career you’d love to give a character but you haven’t found the right story for it yet?
I'm a person who hates to know what is going to happen before it happens. I don't sneak to find out what my Christmas presents are or struggle not to give others their presents early because I can't wait for their reaction. I don't have to know everything everyone else knows and I often forget to tell friends things that they consider a big deal. I was born, by some strange twist of fate, without the nosey gene. (This often gets me into trouble as what I consider minding my own business, others assume is a lack of interest or me not caring. Which is not the case, I assure you.)
In surfing around some blogs last week, I came across a little snippet about the book Heaven, Texas by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I have this book in the TBR and even started it once. However, I was also trying to write and this woman is so darn good, she was killing my confidence. So I put it down. I'll get back to it when I think I can handle the awesome that is SEP.
What I didn't realize is that the blog I'd found was about endings. I'd read the entire bit about how the book ended before I realized it. Now, it didn't really spoil the book for me, I mean, I know they get their HEA. But still, it was more than I prefer to know ahead of time.
Unless you've been living under a rock for the last eight months or so, you know Stephanie Meyer is the latest publishing superstar and her Twilight series about Bella and her teen, vampire love-interest, Edward, is the smash, must-read of the year. Recently, a version of a book Ms. Meyer had been writing, a re-write version of the first book from a different character POV, was leaked through the internet. The fall out has been interesting. I've heard everything from Ms. Meyer leaked the book herself (which I don't believe) to one of the stars of the upcoming Twilight movie leaked the pages. No matter who leaked them, they got out and now Ms. Meyer is supposedly not going to finish or publish the book (based on what she wrote on her website last I checked. Sorry if that has changed since I last looked.)
My question is simple – how do you feel about spoilers? Are you one of those people who read the ending first (and should be flogged!...lol)? Do you scratch and claw to get a much anticipated book as soon as possible? And what would you do if something you poured your heart into, that you loved and couldn't wait for readers to enjoy, got hijacked before you were ready?
Shiver me timbers! That’s an eye-popping topic.
Greetings, fellow bilgemates. Kimberly Killion here, back for another dose of merriment on the ship. I’d like to set this frig off-kilter today and dig for a little treasure. That treasure doesn’t come in the form of booty, but ideas. Where do we get them? Batten down the canvas, this could be quite a storm…
After sending in a third book to my agent, I am at a horrible place where I’m staring out into the vast blue yonder and asking myself, what now? I’ve played with the idea of writing another Scottish tale, but my agent wants me to do something ‘BIGGER’. What the bloody hell does that mean? BIGGER? I feel like that whiney grommet who was just told to swab the deck.
I don’t wanna write something BIGGER! <pout>
Are you as tired as I am of hearing the words: fresh and unique? It’s easy for us to fall into the task of writing another book we are comfortable in. For me, that book would be another tale of a Scottish Laird who falls in love. It’s been done. Cooked. Baked. Burnt! Well, hell, mates! It’s all been done. Or has it?
So, pass the rum my way and let’s talk shop. If you were starting from scratch what would you do? Would you get out the ye ole globe, spin it, and point? Do you start with setting? Or do you start with plot? OR…do you start with characters?
So we don’t run out of rum, let’s start with characters and see where they take us.
The hero: Who is he? What does he do?
OR the heroine: Who is she? What does she do?
Let’s roll some bones to see who goes first…shake, rattle, roll… Cor Blimey! Snake eyes. That’s me.
Fine. I’ll start: Gareth. Aye. I like Gareth MacSomething. See I’m still stuck in Scotland. Let me try again…How about Azreal? He’s an assassin and guess who he has to kill…Lily, pure, sweet, innocent Lily. Hmmm…too cliché. How about she is the assassin and he is pure and noble. Now we are cookin’. So that’s how this is going to play out.
If given the task to write a character that is outside your comfort zone, who would you write about? Where would you set it? You don’t have to answer all these questions, just take a sip of rum, close your eyes, and…I know he’s hot…I can see him…sweat slicked, nice abs, he has a sword…but who is he and where is he at?
Okay, crew & lubbers, this is your Captain speaking (wow, I totally feel like I'm one of those AA pilots, don't you?)--the best hottie and scenerio will win some pirate booty from the Captain's own treasure chest (no, Jack, not that Treasure Chest and I could hardly share that, could I?), including a copy of Her One Desire by Kimberly Killion! Woot, woot! Brainstorm, luvies, brainstorm....
Disclaimer: I’m from a fair-sized Irish family. I’ve spent nearly half of my life in a relationship with one member of the opposite sex or another and that has culminated in my marriage of the past three years.
I only give you this information because these are my credentials to blog about arguments between people of close relationship statuses.
In my Irish family, it was never who was right who won the argument (what an outdated concept that). Instead, it was who could yell their point the loudest. One learned to adjust, delivering their well-placed interjections at the top of their lungs. All I took away from such experiences was the knowledge that this was NOT an effective way of settling disputes. We managed but I was left feeling as if the grunting and scratching of caveman times would have been just as successful.
My personal relationships have been a bit better, at least at times, and I’ve come to realize that the dynamics of good (and bad) interpersonal relationships are forged through the very savvy execution of arguing.
When I say arguing, perhaps that is too strong a word. How about this: expression of differing viewpoints.
I have become a master of the “When you X, I feel Y” and “If you A, then I believe B” approach to arguing, er, stating different opinions. It has made for easier marital relations. My husband is even getting the hang of it, versatile man that he is.
This tactic has cut down on major blow ups, but day to day differences always crop up and these differences seem to be the ones that define a relationship.
Such things like this little exchange:
Me: Why is your coffee cup in the sink?
Him: It’s dirty
Me: I know it’s dirty but the dishwasher is two feet away.
Him: I know where the dishwasher is.
Me: The location of the dishwasher isn’t in question. It’s why your cup isn’t in it that has me baffled.
This exchange could continue but I won’t bore you. What I’m getting at is this type of back and forth, the subtle banter that expresses differing opinions without being overtly argumentative, is a great source of suspense. In conversations such as this, the electricity in the air says that a fight could break out at any minute and you should stay tuned. Maybe they will fight, maybe they won’t, but don’t you want to know? (“Next week on Jerry Springer….”)
I love reading exchanges like this in books. They add great tension. Perhaps because of that, my own work has examples of this throughout. I thought I’d give you an example.
This takes place after my heroine saves my hero from getting stabbed (he’s not aware she saved him as she accidentally knocked him unconscious beforehand). He’s asking her what she’s doing there and she’s skirting the issue (not able to explain how she’s there or how she saved his life).
*I’ve cut out everything but the dialogue.
Her: “I needed to get away from the crowd.”
Him: “Away from the crowd? You decided to get away from the crowd by wandering off into the dark alone?”
Her: “I didn’t actually think through it that way.”
Him: “I would hasten to say that you didn’t think at all.”
Her: “I was still on the Selwyn’s property during a crush. The logical probability that I would come across a fight between two gentlemen was negligible and the chance I would be struck was nearly impossible. Additionally, it wouldn’t hurt for you to acknowledge that I might have assisted you in some small bit back there.”
Him: “If you consider fawning over me, getting yourself hurt, and putting yourself in danger to be assistance, then assistance has been acknowledged.”
Her: “I don’t believe that you are being fair in this matter. I apologize for putting you out, but you’re being unreasonable.”
Him: “You apologize? You think that was an apology?”
Her: “Had you been at the ball earlier, you could have been keeping a better eye on me instead of placing yourself in mortal peril, couldn’t you have?”
Him: “Had I known you needed such close monitoring, I wouldn’t have let you out of my sight.”
How about your story? Do you employ the banter method of suspense? Any examples you would like to share? What other ways do you employ suspense in your writing? Any tidbits of personal banter you find particularly amusing and don't mind sharing with the rest of us?
By Christie Craig and Faye Hughes
Thanks, guys, for having us at your blog, and for helping us to celebrate the launch of our new non-fiction, The Everything Guide to Writing a Romance Novel from Adams Media. We’re sharing a few snippets from the book today, on staying motivated as a writer and on the importance of setting and pacing in your novel.
We hope you enjoy!
Christie and Faye
Because the main entrée of writing automatically comes with a side dish of rejection, it’s important that you work at staying positive. Staying motivated.
This may mean ridding yourself of the negativity demon that lurks within most people. You know that demon, don’t you? It’s the one that whispers in your ear that you’re wasting your time writing. Well, it’s time to send that demon packing!
Start the exorcism of pessimistic thinking by changing all the negative thoughts that imply you can’t do something, to ones that say you can accomplish anything. Remove all the can’ts and shouldn’ts from your internal thoughts. To paraphrase and take creative licenses with the old adage: “If you think you can write and believe you’ll sell soon, you are right. If you think you can’t write and will never publish, you are probably also right.”
Start believing in yourself and you might be surprised how other people will believe in you as well.
Tips on Staying Motivated:
· Get Rid of Negative People
While generally, you will be your own worst enemy, there are some people who are just inherently negative—people who make you doubt yourself and question your sanity for even wanting to become a writer. If possible, eliminate these people from your life.
When eliminating a negative person isn’t an option—for example, when the person is a part of your immediate family—explain to them that you need to focus on the positive. Ask for their support.
· Surround Yourself with the Positive
Removing the negative influences from your life will leave you with some room—room for the optimistic influences. Positive people, people who believe in you, can be essential to your outlook and long-term success. This is why a lot of authors find attending writers’ meetings and visiting with other authors to be so helpful. Sometimes, only another writer will truly understand your woes about this career.
· Write It Down
Getting published involves a lot of small steps. Each step is another goal completed. Write down these goals. Make sure your goals include both the larger and the smaller steps. Large, as in finishing a book. Small, as in finishing a scene or polishing a chapter.
· Never Stop Learning
Feed the brain, nourish the soul.
Something amazing happens to your spirit when you are learning. Knowledge offers a sense of empowerment. Feeling empowered, you are able to overcome hurdles, make wiser decisions, and persevere. With the numerous online writing classes and the amazing amount of how-to books available for purchase, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home to learn.
· Dedicated Versus Obsessed
Every writer who made it to the bookshelves will tell you that it took serious dedication to get there—giving up some lunches with the work colleagues, staying home to write while the rest of the family goes to the latest blockbuster movie. Being dedicated to your career goals is a must in the writing business. However, sometimes there’s a fine line between dedication and obsession.
Importance of Setting
You’ve probably heard the old adage that in real estate, location is everything. It applies to romance novels also. From small towns to big cities, from barren, alien landscapes to lush tropical forests—the options for a setting for your book are endless. But it’s how you use the setting that is important in a romance novel.
Remember, it’s not paragraph after paragraph of dry information about your setting that the reader expects in a romance novel. It’s the integration of that setting into the novel. Is your novel set in the tropics? If so, describe the warmth of the sand on the beach beneath the heroine’s bare feet. Explain how the scent of the flowers growing in the garden outside her room reminds her of an event from her childhood—a good memory, perhaps, or a sad memory. Incorporate the setting into your novel and give the details an emotional impact, rather than simply provide a travelogue description.
Using the Five Senses
Evoking the power of the five senses can bring a scene to life in the reader’s mind. After all, romance readers, more so than the readers of any other genre, want to experience the novel as though it were happening to them. They want to pretend they are the characters you’ve written about on the pages of the book. They want to live your story.
To make this happen, always ask yourself the following five questions when writing a scene:
1. What can my POV character hear?
2. What can my POV character see?
3. What can my POV character smell?
4. What can my POV character taste?
5. What can my POV character touch?
While it’s important to know the answers to these questions when you write your scene, you don’t have to include an example from each of the five senses. Just choose the most vivid ones that best describe the scene you’re writing.
Writing a Book They Can’t Put Down
Do you remember the first time you got so swept up in a novel that you stayed up half the night reading it? As a reader, you hope you’ll find that with every book you read. As a writer, you hope yours is the book that readers can’t put down. There are many reasons why a reader finds a book a compelling read—great writing, wonderful characters, unique plot. But pacing, or the speed with which an author tells the story, is why they keep turning the pages.
Pacing plays an important role in creating a saleable romance novel but it’s probably one of the least understood elements of the craft of writing. Basically, pacing is the author’s way of controlling how fast—or slow—a reader reads the book. The author does this by controlling the length of the sentences and paragraphs, the ratio of dialogue to narrative, and the amount of descriptive details offered in a particular scene.
Think of a scene as a song. Just as each song has its own rhythm and tempo, some fast, some slow, so will your scenes. Your choice of words, how short or long you make the sentences and paragraphs, the ratio of dialogue to narrative in your scene—all of these combine to form the pacing or tempo.
For a romance novel to succeed, it will need scenes that take away the reader’s breath (fast pacing) and scenes that make the reader sigh with pleasure (slower pacing). Like most aspects of writing, finding the right balance is critical.
Generally, when you want to speed up pacing, you will use the following techniques:
· Shorter sentences
· More dialogue
· Crisper, sharper nouns and verbs
Conversely, the following techniques result in a slowing pacing:
· Longer sentences
· More narrative
· More descriptive passages
So, how do you strike the right balance? The answer largely depends upon the type of subgenre you’re writing. After all, a lushly sensuous historical romance will usually have a much slower pace than a tightly plotted contemporary romantic suspense. Still, even within the same subgenres, certain scenes and situations call for a specific type of pacing.
Another way to balance your pacing is to vary the sentence structure you use. Instead of writing sentence after sentence that follows the same “subject-verb-object” format, mix it up by trying “predicate-subject” or other variation. This, combined with varying the length of your sentences and types of scenes, should ensure your pacing is well-balanced.
THE EVERYTHING GUIDE TO WRITING A ROMANCE NOVEL is available wherever books are sold. For more information on Christie and Faye’s book, including how you can purchase a copy directly from them (with an addendum of 25 additional pages not included in the book), you can visit their website, www.writewithus.net.
As a special bonus, one lucky commenter will win their very own copy of THE EVERYTHING GUIDE TO WRITING A ROMANCE NOVEL. So join in the discussion and fire away with those questions!