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A HEARTY THANKS to Bo’Sun Terri and the rest of the crew for having me aboard today!
Anybody who has been around young children has heard this refrain waaay too much! Aunty has just returned from a visit with a few of her grand-nieces and nephews where I quickly grew accustomed to saying “Because…” So, since I am already in the mode of answering all those “Why” questions, I thought I’d answer a few about my new release The Treasures of Venice.
Long, long ago I had never traveled much of anywhere (hard to believe but true). But I dreamed of exotic places and pined to visit them. Venice was at the top of my list. This city built on water captured my imagination from the first moment I learned it existed. All the pictures of the beautiful, elaborate buildings and the boats floating serenely on the canals looked incredibly romantic to me.
Guess what? It really IS a beautiful and romantic city and it left a lasting impression on me.
When I sat down to write my very first romantic suspense novel, it seemed only natural to set it in the most romantic place I could think of – Venice! And once I made up my mind, it was interesting and a little bit scary how I started to notice things about Venice popping up all around me! Venetian glass, Venetian churches, articles about how Venice is sinking… Of course the thing that really cemented the idea for me was that piece of music. I’ve mentioned elsewhere how I was originally inspired by a piece of classical music I heard on the radio. It was the incidental music to the opera “The Jewels of the Madonna.” I’d never heard the music or the opera, but when I went home and googled it, I found out the composer was Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari… A Venetian!
That was the last bit of serendipity I needed to convince me to use Venice as a setting.
Why an Irish Hero?
Because a man with a brogue can talk me into almost anything! Seriously. Have you listened to Jonathan Rhys-Myers? Colin Farrell (who even sounds cute when he’s swearing)? And okay, so I’m Irish myself, which must be why I’ve always had this attraction to dark-haired, blue-eyed men. I never thought I was the only one. Must be because, in addition to the adorable accent, they are just so charming!
Again, it really IS true! I’ve traveled to many many places since that first jaunt to Italy, and I can unequivocally state that every male in Ireland (the Republic and the North) from drooling toddlers to tottering seniors are charming. They can’t help themselves, it’s in their DNA.
Now, I know that logic would dictate if the story is set in Venice then the hero would be Italian. Luckily, I never claimed to be logical. Besides, when I started letting my imagination play ‘what if…’ with this story, this gorgeous Irish hunk popped into my head and insisted on being the hero. Aunty never argues with hunks of any ethnicity, and most especially not Irish ones.
Why a dual storyline?
When I first came up with the idea for The Treasures of Venice, I’d read the libretto for the opera “Jewels of the Madonna.” Well, you know how operas often are, overblown and tragic. And I’m afraid this was the case with “Jewels of the Madonna,” which I’m sure works just fine since it’s an opera, but not so fine for a romance novel. So I started thinking of a different storyline for stolen jewels.
I’d seen a portrait of a beautiful, young Renaissance woman named Gianna Tournabouri and thought she’d make a wonderful heroine. But she was obviously wealthy. Why would she need to steal jewels? Then I realized that, just like in the opera, someone else did the actual stealing. Someone who loved her, and I knew who!
Soon, I had a whole scenario for star-crossed lovers and stolen jewels, but it was set in 1485 Venice. The only problem was, I don’t write historical romances. I had to figure out a way to turn the story into what I did write, which was contemporary romantic suspense.
Back to the drawing board, or in my case the old ‘what if…’ What if the jewels were never found until now? What if the person who uncovered the whereabouts of those jewels got into big, big trouble?.
There had to be a modern day couple, but not just any couple. What if they were the reincarnated lovers from 1485? And what better way to show that than a dual storyline? The biggest surprise of all for a seat-of-the-pants writer like me is that the two storylines fit together so well with almost no effort on my part. Some things really are just meant to be!
Why didn’t you give up on this story?
Actually, I did give up on it for awhile. Even though it was a finalist in the 2006 Golden Heart, it was rejected by 24 agents and almost an equal number of editors, including my editor at Sourcebooks. I put it aside while I wrote two more books, but I really loved this story and these characters, so after The Wild Sight was published, I asked my editor if she would take another look at The Treasures of Venice. She suggested a few revisions (nothing really major) and once I did those, she decided she loved the book as much as I did!
I’m happy to say, I’ve received some very good advance reviews of the book, and I truly hope all my readers will be equally enthusiastic about The Treasures of Venice. I am absolutely thrilled that this “book of my heart” is finally on the shelves!
So does that answer all your “whys”? Any “who?” “what?” “where?” of “how?” you’d like to ask? I’ll be giving an autographed copy of both The Treasures of Venice and The Wild Sight to two lucky commenters! (Please let me know which you’d like.)
Bo'sun Terrio here - <i>The Treasures of Venice</i> hit shelves today so run, don't walk to the nearest bookstore. If you'd rather order online, click on the cover at that top. For more information on Loucinda McGary, check out her website here. Now, let the questions fly but remember Aunty is on the left coast so she'll be around a little later in the morning.
I noticed something about myself last week. I was singing along to my favorite playlist on a long drive, and with all my favorite songs bumped together, a pattern became glaringly obvious. Almost every song had the phrase “run away” or “save me” somewhere in the lyrics.
In fact, two of them actually had those phrases as the title.
I’m sure this says something less-than-flattering about my personal life, but lucky for all of us, analyzing my personal brand of crazy isn’t on the agenda for today *g*.
But I started thinking about how I write too. And I realized the same themes can be found in what I write. My first novel – the heroine ran away every time things got hard, and the hero needing saving from himself. The current book? They both need saving. Desperately.
This seems to be a common theme with me all the way around.
Last week, we were thinking about one-line mottos for our characters to really parse it down to something we could pull through the whole novel.
So what about the novel itself? The whole thing has a theme too, something to tie the plot to the relationship and the characters. Apparently, salvation is my go-to theme. Other common ones that we see a lot are learning to forgive, being redeemed, learning to love.
My themes always end up being questions. Righ now, it sees to be "What if no one is who you think they are?" The characters have to figure out who everyone else really is -- who's the bad guy and who's the good guy -- but more importantly, who they themselves are and how to trust each other.
So what’s yours? What is your book or current project about. What theme ties together your character arcs with your plot? Usually this is a few words or a sentence, or even a question. Do you have certain themes you keep coming back to, or themes that show up in your music or reading choices? What themes jump out to you as a reader?
Everyone knows pirates are known for having some nifty weapons. Canons. Cutlasses. Chain Shot (which is a set of iron balls, I kid you not). On this ship we also have ninja stars and poison dart eyelashes (long story). But truly, you can never have too many weapons on a pirate ship. That’s why I’ve added some large caliber experts to the crew.
In case you’re wondering where the weapon is in this last one, it’s there. Trust me.
I am super excited to say Loucinda McGary (aka Aunty Cindy of the Romance Bandits) will be celebrating the release day of her newest novel, The Treasures of Venice, with us this Tuesday, September 1. This book took Loucinda to the Golden Heart and tells two connected stories, one set in the 1490s and the other set in modern day. Make plans to join the celebration and find out more about the journey this book has taken to finally land at a bookstore near you. (The book is already out so look for it now!)
“Last I heard he was heading for the states.” He said.
“He has a shipment leaving in two days why would he be in the states?”
“Trying to flush you out.”
“He can’t shake you, but you’re like smoke, he’s after your woman.”
I increased the pressure on the barrel of the gun and he winced as he stared at me out of the corner of his eye.
“When did he leave?”
I looked through the open window at the darkness settling over the town.
I was 200 miles from a government contact; Cortez would find her, use her as a pawn, and kill her while I watched.
I flipped the safety back on the gun and slipped it in my waistband. I frisked his pockets and found a map.
“A map of the Cortez’s base camp.”
“Where’s it located?”
“30 miles south.”
“How many men are in residence?” I asked.
“What are you doing in town?”
“Waiting for the buyer to arrive, so I can escort him to the compound.”
I slid my arm around the front of his neck and positioned my hand on the other side of his head.
“I think he might be waiting a while for that escort.” I said.
I jerked his head to the side until I heard his neck pop, then I released him, letting him slide to the floor. I stepped over his body and walked into the darkness of the town.
We all experience stress, just like the characters we create. Maybe not at the epic proportions of the character in the snippet of my story, but I’m sure we all have felt as if we were working under the gun from time to time. In my past writing life, I have usually dealt with stress in my personal life by tapping away the frustration on the computer keyboard. I’ve written some of my best scenes after experiencing a stressful day. Emotion, anger, and heartache give me the right frame of mind to slip under my character’s skin. As we’ve often discussed on the ship, writing can be a cheap form of therapy.
My father passed away 9 years ago. As a form of therapy, I chose to express my grief through a pen on paper. I couldn't verbally express the raw pain of emotion clawing at my heart. The verbilizations never seemed sufficient to describe the turmoil in my life. I wrote pages upon pages of words, attempting to extinguish the pain the only way I knew how. I wrote everything I felt, and everything I missed about him. In the end when I finished pouring out my soul, I wrote a letter to him. I told him everything I wanted to say that I didn't find the opportunity to say before I said goodbye. Most of what I said he already knew, but visulizing it on paper made all the difference in the world. I documented my feelings of loss, followed by a celebration of his life. Through my journey I discovered a love for writing that I left behind in an American Literature class. It took the darkest moment of my life to discover something that would become one of the biggest anchors in my life.
In recent months, I have experienced an extreme amount of stress in the workplace. The stress has carried over into my writing life. Before, I dealt with stress through writing, now I’m stressed because the stress is not allowing me to write. My workdays are long and exhausting; they leave me both mentally and physically tired. When I find time to sit in front of the keyboard my brain is mush. I have fleeting ideas for storylines, and thoughts for scenes to add to my current WIP, but they all filter away because I don’t have the advantage of stopping a surgical procedure and writing them in my trusty notebook. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been known to have a fellow coworker dictate notes for me from the surgical field. I get some weird looks, but I’m sure you understand how important those fleeting thoughts are to a current WIP.
I’m not writing this blog to illicit cyber hugs, because I’m no different from anyone else who has a stressful job environment. I empathize with those who do, but I know I’m not alone. Even if you don’t have a stressful job, most writers experience stress in their personal life. We all have families, friends, pets, households, and deadlines. At any given time, unexpected crap hits the fan. The car breaks down, grandma falls and breaks a hip, the cat gets a hairball, or the air conditioner ceases to function on the hottest day of the summer. Life is good, but it can be a never-ending snag of complications. Have you ever heard the quote “If life gives you lemons make lemonade?” My life is giving me lemons, but I'm too tired to squeeze.
It’s been a long summer for me. Health issues among my loved ones have twisted my personal life up. Lots of emotion, lots of drama. And it’s not over yet.
At the end of July, I told myself that I needed to get back in the saddle, finish my WIP. I had 25-30K left to get to the end of the first draft, completely doable in a month and a half if I put my nose to the grindstone. I generally write about 5K a week, so I figured if I settled in through August and into Sept, I could finish by my vacation (the week of Sept 12). That was the tentative goal.
I wrote some. About 10K. But last week, as I was reading through that 10K, something was way off.
It didn’t speak to me. Didn’t reach in and grab my heart like it needed to.
I grumbled. I pondered. In general, I stopped writing for a couple days and just stared at the screen with my face all scrunched up.
There was the story, the plot I wanted to tell. Even the stuff happening was pretty compelling, I thought. It just felt… FLAT.
And then, after a couple of days of silence, it struck me. It wasn’t the story that was the problem. It was the narrator.
In each of the scenes I’d written, I’d chosen the wrong narrator. There were 8 scenes. That’s a lot of mistaken point of views.
I can only assume that at the time, for the most part, I didn’t want to play in the more painful point of view. Or, if I did, the emotions were off, either too little or too much. I spent this past week flipflopping point of views and it reads a lot better now. I even got moving forward again.
But the whole experience really highlighted how important it is to get the narrative point of view right. And sometimes the best choice for the narrator isn’t the character that is hurting. Sometimes the best choice is the character doing the damage. For example, here’s a snippet. This is from my hero’s point of view as my heroine is begging him not to put his life in danger.
“It’s too much, even for all of you. We need to think this through. We need a better plan.”
“We?” He snorted. “There is no we here. This is my show, Sarah.”
She jerked as if he’d slapped her. He heard Cass suck in a ragged breath, but he didn’t look at him or Ice, just watched the play of emotions on Sarah’s face, in her eyes. Shit. That didn’t come out right at all. His fists clenched.
“I see,” she whispered and those two little words ripped his chest open.
He softened his voice, vowing that when this night was over, he’d make this all up to her. Somehow. “This isn’t about us. This is about me going after Cartwright. Maybe the only chance we’ll have at him.”
It's pretty rough but I hope you get the what I mean. Initially I wrote this in Sarah’s POV and she paused at the “There is no we here” to do too much introspection, essentially to ponder her navel. It slowed things down. And I think this works as well, without the major existential meltdown.
So what do you think? How do you decide which POV to write each scene in, if you write 3rd? If you write 1st, how do you get around keeping the emotion from being too close or too far away? Any scenes in books you wish had been in a different POV or any authors that do this very well?
Music choice of the week: (Something y'all might have actually heard of.)
Got It Made- Seether- Disclaimer II
Since Terri had to go and open up the "motto" topic this week (And I'm still pretty sure you were trying to trick me, pirate.), then Hellie follows it up with the changing trends, I might as well pretend like I know something about writing.
Yeah. *laughing* Right. I went rogue on this ship a long time ago.
I don't plot. *huff* I don't care what you say, Ter.
I don't admit to "feelings" and whatever kind of crap you're trying to sell me as general female emotion. *crossing arms over chest* At least not in my outside voice.
*eye roll* And I sure as hell don't cry. I'd rather die than be caught crying.
You may think, why this little rant?
I spent the weekend with Kiki and Dex. Always an adventure into repression and denial. I can admit while we're not supposed to write heroines like ourselves, Kiki has a lot of my emotional characteristics. And writing a character that reminds you a lot of yourself in a way is, well, annoying and trying and very challenging to make it seem original. This is where Kiki's opposite comes into play. The Yang to her Yin. In times when I'm so annoyed with Kiki that I can't stand it, I just insert my annoyance into Dex's lines and everything is kosher.
Terri spoke a little on having a motto for your characters to help compass your character's motivation and I've always known that Kiki's "motto" is- I don't deserve it. Sacrifice is the only way. Whereas, Dex's "motto" is- I take what's mine and damn the consequences.
I like Dex. He's motto makes me grin in the most wicked way.
Now (and you might want to get a feather bed for Terri to pass out on) I'm about to admit something that I definitely don't associate with most of my heroes.
Dex isn't a true alpha alpha.
*mass occurrences of fainting*
*Chance jumps overboard*
*Lisa throws up*
Now, I know that you're thinking Dex's motto is a bit on the alpha side of things. But stay with me. For the first time ever, I actually put some thought into this. (Not plotting, mind you. I've got my eyes on you three, Terri, Marn and Hal. Sneaky pirates.)
Kiki is a true alpha heroine. She stiff-arms emotion like a pro. You can't find a crack in her emotional guard armor. You can't find a way to get to her through others because she doesn't allow anyone close enough. You think you know her, but you don't- you know what she wants you to know. She is a rough and tumble girl. Paring her up with another alpha would only weaken her stance as lead alpha of her pack (not to mention probably WWIII). And I can't have that.
So, *deep breathing* I dreamed up Dex.
Dex and Kiki have always been paired in another series that I planned before the Sadie series. Kiki was the pretty unattainable girl Dex secretly loved from afar. Dex is the man that Kiki secretly loves but she could never forgive herself if she hurt him and she knows she will. She knows her emotional detachment from life would eventually kill the man she loves from afar. So she keeps him at a distance and (in my mind) he's been quietly grooming her slowly but surely to let him in.
Sneakiness, I can admire. I can respect that. You can ask Mattycakes. He said he tried all sorts of things to get my attention but the only way he got to me was by sneakiness (I can't resist a good head game. *pause* Wait... I didn't mean it like that.). I was damned sure I wasn't going to fall for him. In fact, I was going to move away from him to prove it to myself that I didn't need anyone.
By the time I realized how far I'd fallen, it was too late to run and I didn't want to. Once you get a taste of something in your life you've been starving for and didn't realize it, it's hard to let it go. I want Kiki to have this same realization to complete her character arc. It won't happen in one book, mind you; but the gradual acceptance of the little things that Dex does for her will eventually make her realize that while she's been looking at the big picture and trying to keep him out of it, he's already woven himself so deep into her life, she can't live without him.
I've always been at the realization that two alphas aren't made for each other. You don't have to be an alpha to dominate an alpha female. You just have to show her a lot of respect. Get underneath her skin and make her think about you and the possibilities. And an alpha females needs someone in her life to soften her, otherwise she eventually gets so far detached she can't come back. If the hero is so unyielding in his own emotions, how can you soften the pair of them together if you can't show them that it's okay to admit to a few feelings and have the need of someone in your life that you can count on? The story would get stagnant and stale if you had to read about them constantly butting heads over something. There has to be push and pull to keep interest and growth.
What characteristics do you look for in an alpha female versus the beta female? What are some pros and cons of each that you find irk (or admire) while you're reading? Any favorite alpha females out there in TV or Fiction? How about great alpha females and their men- any examples?
Musical influences: Brad Paisley, Welcome to the Future
No, this isn’t Sin. It’s your Captain speaking. (Besides I don’t think Sin knows who Brad Paisley is.) My Dad is always going on about how much has changed in just his lifetime (he’s 87), but when he talks about it, it’s always about technology, travel, medicine, and the state of people’s souls.
When I think of things that have changed, I think of, well, romance novels.
The modern romance novel was born in 1972 with The Flame and the Flower, and we’ve been writing historical romance novels similar to this vein ever since. I’m guessing Woodiwiss’ book is selected because it was the first bodice-ripper, and bodice-rippers are what classify as modern romance novels. After all, it must not be a romance novel, if someone is not having sex with someone else. (Sounds like an episode of Sex in the City, doesn’t it?)
So what has changed in almost forty years? The plot itself is still the same: two people (most typically a man and a woman) fall in love. And because the road to true love never did run smooth, there are lots of misunderstandings, heavy petting, and the occasional near-death-experience. Especially if it’s a romance novel with thriller elements. Yes, those elements haven’t changed. I think it’s the delivery that’s different.
Instead of 400+ page sweeping, epic novels that can cover years of the hero’s and heroine’s lives, we typically have novels that are 300+ pages that focus on a more manageable length of time. A couple months, maybe a couple years. It appears the mood of the people has changed in 40 years about how long you should give your one and only love a chance to get his act together to tell you he loves you. Putting up with a hero who calls you names and forcibly seduces you for 400 pages before going, “You’re right, I’m sorry, I love you” is no longer acceptable.
And speaking of forcible seductions, in the 1970s, they were de rigeur, complete with a heroine who clearly didn’t know her own mind as she kept shouting “no, no, no” even while she was pressing him to her breast and whispering “yes, yes, yes.” Nowadays, with a few notable exceptions, pretty much the opposite is the accepted practice. And I could even name a couple heroines who’ve stood out that were of the “forcible seducer” type, crawling in bed with the hero to force a marriage or tying a guy to the bed so she can have a baby. But notable exceptions aside, this is one change I’ve truly enjoyed. Sex has evolved to lovemaking, and lovemaking has become a mutually desired expression of characters’ feelings for each other, even if they’re not willing to say the words yet.
Another standard modern romance novel staple is the alpha male. The drill sergeant. Do as I say and when I say jump, you ask how high. The alpha male is always the perfect foil for that saucy little heroine we love and admire, the one who speaks before she thinks and isn’t cowed by the hero. The 1970s version of the alpha male included the guy who would call the heroine a bitch and a whore (or worse) for 400+ pages, constantly questioning her morality and belittling her at every turn, while reminding her how she wouldn’t be able to survive without his tender loving care. And usually at the end of the book, the hero hasn’t really changed this belittling, demeaning quality but sugarcoats his character flaw by saying he loves her, because that changes everything.
Fortunately the modern romance hero is more than a one-man show. We have the alpha, the beta, or the much preferred gamma, the guy who is a sensitive drill sergeant. Though I don’t think the variety is the biggest change in the modern romance hero. It’s Respect. The heroine might drive the hero batshit, but on the whole, the hero still respects her. Internally if nowhere else.
Personally I’m really happy to be in the future and reading romance novels—even though some of the more sensitive heroes do come off as too sensitive for me—because the other option, namecalling and forcible seductions on every page just doesn’t appeal to me anymore.
What changes have you noticed in all your years/experience of reading romance novels? Which ones are for the better? Which ones are for the worse? And what do you see for the future of romance?
One of the best workshops I attended during Nationals was You Say Tomato, I say To-Motto: How Character Motto Influences Plot, Conflict & Other Story Elements presented by Susan Gable. I realized in the middle of the workshop that Ms. Gable also presented one of the first workshops I ever attended. I still use techniques she taught in that one. If you ever get the chance to attend a workshop presented by Susan Gable, I highly recommend it.
Now, down to business.
Every hero and heroine has their own built-in motto. As Ms. Gable defines it – “A deeply held personal belief, stemming from the character’s back story, that impacts the way he/she views the world and the way he/she behaves.”
I always learn better with examples so that’s where we’ll start.
Hero X - Good soldiers don’t cry/pick yourself up and carry on.
Background - Father in the military who repeated these words over and over.
Environment – Few close friends and little if any personal effects in home.
Behavior – Every injury is a scratch no matter how serious and it is never an option to think about, discuss, or heaven forbid admit to having feelings.
Heroine X - Feelings are important and should be explored.
Background - Raised in a home with a lot of drama, possibly a parent who acted or worked in psychology/psychiatry.
Environment – A hugger whose home is filled with deep colors, lots of fabrics and overstuffed furniture.
Behavior – Every experience is an opportunity to explore how she feels and share those feelings with anyone around her.
Motto is a great tool for both plotters and pantsers. Plotters can take the foundation of the motto and dig deep into the backstory and pantsers can use the motto as they go along to keep the character acting and reacting in ways that fit who they are. Plotters can use mottos to plan ways to test the characters, challenge them, and create conflict. Pantsers can use mottos to maintain motivation without having to think too much about it.
In the end, mottos tell the writer what these characters will ultimately teach each other in order to find their HEA. They take the guesswork out of the equation and still allow for new twists and turns along the way.
Other motto examples:
I'll do it myself.
Life is short, eat dessert first.
Everybody lies/Everybody leaves.
No risk, no reward.
I know I'm right, don't confuse me with the facts.
These could go on endlessly.
Have you ever used mottos for your characters to shape your stories? If not, would you be willing to try it? If you were writing the story of Hero and Heroine X above, what would you throw at them and how would you bring them together? (To Sin – I promise this not a secret ploy to make you plot. *g*)
Unless you’ve been living near the Arctic without internet access or a television, you likely know there’s a healthcare debate going on in the United States. I honestly don’t know whether this issue will ever be worked out, politicians aren’t known for compromise these days, but here on the ship I thought it best to take matters into my own hands.
And that meant, putting the crew into the hands of some very competent doctors. Doctors who also happen to be hot. With doctors like this, who doesn’t want to hear those magical words?
“Assume the position.”
Ya never know when a topic a’ conversation will open yer eyes up ta somethin’ ya haven’t considered much afore. I was speakin’ ta me mentor, Jenna Petersen, a few weeks past ‘bout the topic of genre…on the Revenge, a few days later we was discussin’ not only why we write, but it meandered inta who we write fer…
Taking off me 2nd Chance persona for the moment, let me continue.
This got me thinking seriously about the whole idea of integrity within the writing mind. What it means to the writer isn’t always the same as it means to the reader, the editor or the agent. These are some of my conclusions.
If writer A loves the challenge of writing for contests... Loves the sculpting to exacting standards, loves the test of pleasing assorted judges, loves to study score sheets and figure out what she can ace, loves to tweak and trim passages of a MS and see this as part of her brilliance… GREAT! Really! This author is being authentic to their calling and has the right to view herself as talented and wonderful. Because she is.
If writer B loves to ford her own path… To thumb her nose at the very idea of contests, of standard formats, loves to poke at beloved templates and trample over the lines between genres, loves to write with disruption in mind and sees this as part of her brilliance… GREAT! Why not? Again, this author is being authentic to her calling and has the right to view herself as talented and wonderful. Because she is, too!
Writer C writes for her audience. They are the most valuable part of the decisions she makes with her characters, her plots. She knows what her reader wants and she gives it to them. She follows strict guidelines, never rocks the boat of her genre. She has a contract, not only with her editor, but with her reader and she honors it… GREAT! Another author being authentic to her calling…she is talented and wonderful. (Let’s face it, this isn’t easy to do!)
There are as many writers as there are examples. (Stay wit’ me here…) Long as the writer views herself as authentic, there is integrity. It may not be the path you chose to walk, but it is authentic to that author. I can’t write to contest standards. I flat out can’t. If I try the tweaking process I will make myself sick. I might succeed, but it won’t fly by my personal standards of what is authentic for me. But it might for you!
How did I come from a conversation with Jenna to talking about authenticity and integrity? I expressed my continual frustration with feeling lost on the sea of genre classification, with not knowing where my stuff fit. We were talking about erotica, erotic romance and romance…how to write for what. Where the lines are, etc. And somewhere, in the midst of listening to her, I heard something that rang true for me… I don’t remember exactly what she said, but it was a real Obi Wan moment for me. And the key were the words priority and authenticity.
If I write something that isn’t authentic to my story…if I try to fit something in, force something in because of influences outside my vision…it won’t ring true. Not just for me, but for a reader. No matter how much I want to slide into erotica, no matter if my story deals with sex (and most of my stories deal with sex in one form or another…) I can’t make it erotic… And long story short, it doesn’t have to.
I fell into the trap of assuming that if I had some blunt language, some unorthodox sexual situations (most of my stories deal with unorthodox situation in one form or another…) that I had to look at erotica as my market. My calling.
But it wasn’t ringing a bell for me. It didn’t feel right. It wasn’t authentic to my vision. My stories feature sex…period. The sex isn’t the priority. To be authentic, to carry integrity, I needed to consider what the priority was.
I have a confession to make. I don’t write romance. Romance is not my priority. It’s the icing on the cake, usually. But sometimes it’s just the ice cream on the side.
Sex isn’t the priority either, though it is near the top…often it’s the flavor of the cake.
I’m still working on where I find my writing priorities. And it may be different for every story, though I think I’m going to find an all encompassing thread running through my stories…. I’ll let you all know when I figure it out…
To wind back to where I began. It’s different for every writer. The process is different for every writer. Not just why we write, but how we write, what our priorities are within the process…
Is the HEA your priority? Is it STW? (I made that one up. Save The World.) Is it save the puppy? Save the soul? Open the soul? Is it to poke holes? Open eyes? Poke eyes? Lift spirits? Comfort? Challenge the paradigm? Rant?
Do you find yourself reading for the same message? Favoring authors that fit into your comfort level? What rings the bell of authenticity in you? And what are you looking for if so? Ever thought about why?
If it’s all about feeding the soul… As a reader, as a writer…what bit of authenticity is your soul hungry for?
(I had to follow a blog on sexual turn ons... Sigh.)
It is no secret that in the business of romance, sexuality is a very individual thing. What turns me on may make you snooze while what turns you on may make me scared. Sexuality is complicated and always in the eye of the beholder. It’s no wonder people who’ve been married for eons say the sex only gets better. Uh yeah, because after 40 years, he or she better the hell know what the other likes! Even Wikipedia defines human sexuality as “how people experience the erotic and express themselves as sexual beings.” If that doesn’t sum up how case-specific sexuality is, I don’t know what does.
That said, every person is the expert of their own sexuality. The act of sex itself, however, is pretty basic. Even in the world of Romancelandia, it’s become cliché to say, “put tab A into slot B.” There’s nothing new under that sun. We all have the same parts. We all know where to put them. But it is the other things--the words, the movements, even the settings--that flavor sex to a person’s individual tastes.
As I am the expert of my own sexuality, I write what I like. But I might not have such a clear picture of what I like had I not first read what I liked. I can’t tell you how many titles of books I’ve forgotten, how many characters’ names—even authors’ names—but I have never, EVER forgotten those few situations where the writer happened to tap into my own personal brand of oh la la. Those scenes are branded on my brain. Of course, some of my favorite authors aren’t that strong when it comes to the heat, but I’m not talking about character-development here. I’m talking about what turns people on.
As for me, I like to read situations where the characters skate that fine line between traditional and oh my God. Don’t mistake me. I am not one of those people who wears rubber and owns a ball-gag and I’m not too keen on reading about characters who do either. I believe in a couple falling in love and pursuing their happily ever after together. But I also don’t want to read traditional June Cleaver sex. This is my escape, after all. I’ve bought this book and I want the fantasy I paid for. The missionary position is fine as long as there is some sort of umph in the scene. And by umph I could mean something as minor as a salacious little line of dialogue the hero whispers into the heroine’s ear--something that makes me squirm a little, but not feel oogy.
As for the authors whose sexual prose I can get on board with, here’s my list:
Now it’s your turn. Tell me what turns you on and which authors help to get you there.
I'm not going to lie. I'm feeling totally uninspired to write this Wednesday blog. I've gone off the reservation with my writing and into left field. I know how publishers feel about "unnecessary" background inserted into the story. And I hate unnecessary writing, but sometimes I can't get around it. Lately, I've been writing short stories about my characters. Don't know why, probably couldn't explain it even if I had to, but sometimes, characters just have to unload emotional and physical baggage before you get down to the nitty-gritty science of constructing a manuscript. The best way for me to do that is to just listen and record it journal style.
Now, I'm not talking about getting the skinny from the characters while you're writing the scene. You know, when you're writing and all of a sudden something becomes so clear about this character that you had really no idea about and they light bulb finally came on and everything makes sense. Not that. I'm talking about what makes your character YOUR character. The backlog of everything that's happened in their past that makes up their present. (Ter, don't you DARE say that's plotting. In fact, I'm putting my blinders on now.)
I need to know what makes my characters emotionally tick so I can write them to the best of my ability. So I have conversations with them and since we've visited my road rage issues of driving while conversing with characters, I don't need to rehash that.
My latest short story was written about Kiki.
It was sort of random. A lot of our conversations come from our mutual habits. I was washing dishes and she said so deathly calm, "Just because I'm a cold-hearted bitch, doesn't mean I don't have a heart or feelings. It means you're not worth it." There was some silence, and I know I must have looked rather odd standing at the sink while the water was running unwilling to move in case I lost my reception on the Kiki show.
"I'll never forgive you." I could tell she was about to lose it. The "you" wobbled as if she struggled for air. That it was painful for her to even think about it, let alone say it aloud. It was as if my heart were the one breaking as her voice cracked over the last words she spoke.
Then it was eerily silent.
I contemplated this. Goodbye is such a sad word. Goodbye means forever in my world. I'll never see you again. I'll never talk to you. I'll not even allow myself to think about you when I'm scared and alone. For a girl who trusts very few, this was a very telling moment about Kiki's inner psyche. Could this be one of the most influential moments in Kiki's past coming to light for me? She felt so lost. So insecure. And numb. The scariest part of it all, she was just numb and knew she'd have to stay that way for the rest of her life.
I had to get this all down.
Matty seems to know when I'm on a mission. He followed behind me as I barely took enough time to turn the faucet off and dry my hands and skittered right into the living room to pull out my notebook.
"What are you doing?"
I didn't look up as I searched for a pen. Why is it when you need a pen, you can't find one but when you don't need one, you've got them running out of your ears? "I have to write something down."
"Right now?" I could tell he was confused. He often is when dealing with me and my odd moments of writing clarity. Especially when I hop out of the shower like a mad woman and dash into the bedroom for my journal.
"I can't explain. Somehow, I tuned into my character and I can't lose this thought. This is THE moment!"
He sighed. I found a pen and squealed happily as I wrote down everything that happened in my head. He turned the TV louder as if he could hear my thoughts and didn't like it.
Too bad. If he stayed long enough he might have heard the real good stuff that might interest him.
So, I've been working on this emotional clarity with Kiki (because Sadie is a mess mentally and making me a basketcase); and I'm wondering if there is anyone else out there that writes short stories about their manuscript characters to get to know them better? What little weird extra steps do you take to get to know your characters better? If you're a reader, do you prefer stand alones or series? And what turns you on and off to the main characters in a book?
Sorry, I totally didn't have a point today. I'll try harder next week. Maybe.
Romance novels would be a lot shorter if men only knew how to communicate with women. I mean, I enjoy bickering (and bantering) as much as the next girl, but admit it, it’s still annoying. Sometimes it really feels like they’re just not listening.
I mean, that’s why we read romances, right? For the fantasy that at the end of 400 pages, this imperfect guy has effectively communicated to the long-tolerating heroine that he does indeed love her and will cherish her forever—and he couldn’t possibly live without her. You know, because he listened to her and it finally sunk in that, hey, this is important, perhaps I should tell her how I really feel so she doesn’t wonder anymore.
This is the epitome of the Female Fantasy. Not Johnny Depp mowing our lawn in tiny shorts, with sweat glistening off all those rippling muscles; but Johnny Depp listening and saying, “Yes, darling, I do love you. I always have. And yes, I will pick up my dishes and put them in the dishwasher. I’ll do that right now and not wait for a commercial during the game….”
The ideal, I admit, is somewhat different than the reality. We don’t really communicate effectively.
Talking with a man about anything is a lot like trying to build a house with two very different sets of blueprints. You both want the house; and hell, you both agreed on the type of house you wanted. From there, it’s a matter of details—and with women, we always have way too many details, whereas men stick with the bare bones of a situation. If you give them too much information, their solution is not going to be the one you’re looking for.
Let me illustrate this:
I hope you can help me here. The other day I set off for work leaving my husband in the house watching the TV as usual. I hadn't gone more than a mile down the road when my engine conked out and the car shuddered to a halt. I walked back home to get my husband's help.
When I got home I couldn't believe my eyes. He was in our bedroom with the neighbor lady. I am 32, my husband is 34, and we have been married for twelve years. When I confronted him, he admitted that they had been having an affair for the past six months. I told him to stop or I would leave him.
He was let go from his job six months ago, and he says he has been feeling increasingly depressed and worthless. I love him very much, but ever since I gave him the ultimatum he has become increasingly distant.
He won't go to counseling and I'm afraid I can't get through to him anymore.
Can you please help?
Distraught in North Carolina
A car stalling after being driven a short distance can be caused by a variety of faults with the engine. Start by checking that there is no debris in the fuel line.
If it is clear, check the vacuum pipes and hoses on the intake manifold and also check all grounding wires.
If none of these approaches solves the problem, it could be that the fuel pump itself is faulty, causing low delivery pressure to the carburetor float chamber.
I hope this helps.
I think you can see what I’m saying. To a woman, everything is important. To a man, a more manageable amount is important. Like golf, sex, and beer.
Now I only bring this up because it’s very important that dialogue sound authentic. Writers are told to read their sentences (especially dialogue) aloud as a revision tactic. There are a dozen different reasons why I may put down a book, but dialogue is in the top two. The banter of a book definitely lends itself to making the pace virtually un-put-downable.
So we all admit the Groveling Scene is ever so important in the novel, but it is definitely a make-or-break scene. Because he has to be remorseful without looking pathetic and he has to appear sensitive without making everyone wonder if he’s secretly gay. He has to tell the heroine what she wants to hear without losing his masculine voice. So I’m curious: how do you all write dialogue for the opposite sex?
When Christina Dodd writes the hero’s dialogue, she says she thinks of what the woman would say, then dumbs it down. *grins* A tip not without merit. (Did I say that out loud? I hope Jack didn’t hear that.) I mean, sure, he’s the hero and he deserves a great line, and I’m aware women don’t actually think a man would say anything close to the kind of declaration found in a romance novel, but I want the realm of plausibility here. I mean, I have been in romantic moments where the man I’m with makes a particularly profound and rather delicious statement, and my first reaction is: did I just hallucinate what he just said? Because he sounded just like Mr. Darcy, oh, I could swoon right now. Then I usually hold up a finger to stop him and say, “Hold just a second. I have paper, I need to write this down. It’d be perfect in this book….”
What is your tip for writing dialogue for the opposite sex? Is it the Jennifer Cruisie approach (“Men think cleanly. Write cleanly.”) or is it the Christina Dodd Tongue-in-Cheek?
Me, I’m not sure which approach I use. I don’t write my male-lead dialogue very cleanly, that’s for sure, but I don’t think I make him sound like he rides the short bus either. And there have been some speeches I’ve written where you might wonder if he’s hoarding some Barbara Streisand albums. Mostly, my technique is to think of my Banter Guy and pretend he’s who my heroine is having a conversation with. Every once in a while, I get it right. And occasionally I've had CPs say, "OMG, your hero is so damned annoying, I'm going upstairs right now to smother my husband!"
Clearly when I read an email like that, I know my work is done.
I read and read, as fast as I could. The beginning was light and sweet and funny and made me smile. Most of this author's books start like this. And then they get deeper and deeper, and more and more angsty, until I cry my heart out and finally go back to smiling. So when I got half way through, I thought, okay, now we're getting to the good stuff. The deep stuff. The things holding them apart that they will have to overcome and break my heart while doing it.
And then I got to the 2/3 point, and I thought, okay, now we must be getting to the good stuff.
And then I got to the 3/4 point, and I thought, okay, now we must be getting to the good stuff.
And then I got to about the 7/8 point in the book, and a black moment came out of nowhere. Nowhere. It was entirely external, had little-to-no connection to the plot, and then the book was over.
I felt cheated.
Here's how the plot went:
1. Boy meets girl. They don't particularly like each other, so there's a bit of of witty and funny dialogue.
2. Another boy notices girl. Boy gets jealous. They quickly work through this misunderstanding.
3. Boy and Girl realize they are attracted to each other.
4. Boy and Girl fall in love, and have mediocre sex.
5. They get married.
Anyone else notice a huge, gaping hole in this plot? Anything missing? Nothing was holding the two apart. Nothing internal, nothing external (minus the awkward, external black moment at the end). They simply fell in love. And it was cute, in a sappy, gag-me sort of way.
But there was no conflict. None.
And I realized that I think the reason I love angst so much is because I love internal conflict. I love deep conflict. I love the push and pull and struggle between two people trying to navigate their emotions and relationship. That's what makes my heart ache, what makes me root for the characters. And without it, nothing was the same.
So what kind of conflict do you like? What book had the most conflict, or what kinds of conflict do you like to right? Do you focus on more on the internal, the external, or do you like an even split? Which do you prefer to read? Are you sorely disappointed when there isn't enough conflict?
It dawned on me this weekend that we’ve been adding all these specialty personal to this crew, but no one to do the real sailor work. This ship doesn’t run itself, after all. Well, sometimes I think it does, goodness knows we’re not the manual labor types.
To make sure this ship stays ship-shape and on course (do we have a course?), I’ve lined up some experienced and responsible sailors. Salt of the Earth (water?) and sturdy as a brand new rigging. These men certainly look like they know their way round a swinging hammock.
2. As therapy for all the nasty mean things my brother did to me as a child, and the way Jody Mulky treated me when I made the pee wee cheerleading squad, not to mention that Chris Thomas turned me down when I asked him to junior prom. I have issues to work out, and by cracky I’m doing it in the pages of a book, and it’s going to be good.
3. I am a cover art whore and my cover is going to be good. It’s going to picture a half naked, dark skinned man with no chest hair, a tattoo around his bicep, and a dark brooding look in his eyes. If I get lucky maybe, a Ducati will be in the background. I know that most writers never get a choice with their cover art, but after the publisher finds out about the childhood trauma I endured, they’ll make an exception.
4. I have 21 years of experience as a nurse. In those 21 years, I’ve interacted with people of all lifestyles, in every stage of life and death. I could write a book for every years worth of experience. I’ve lived it, now it’s time to share the joy and heartache.
5. I have the choice of picking out a cool pen name-an alter ego so to speak.
6. I have the opportunity to meet cool writer buddies.
7. To have the opportunity to travel, and experience other cultures, and meet other writers in all walks of life.
8. The opportunity to change a person’s negative energy toward the romance genre.
9. To be able to say I wrote a book as a way of obtaining a personal goal.
10. To create a cast of characters that resonate in the reader’s mind long after they close the cover.
What are your reasons for writing a book? Have you ever used a character or a scene to work out some personal issues? Does anyone else have a cover art fetish?
First of all, I wanted to post the winner for the autographed book from last week’s Jessica Andersen visit.
Renee Lynn Scott!
Email me with your snail mail addy and I’ll have Jess send you your autographed book!
When I started my WIP, I intended for it to be the first of five books about a group of six fighters. But, I’m having some second thoughts.
Not because I don’t find them interesting. I do. But my hero and heroine’s story, the interactions between them, take up so much of the book that I’ve had a hard time zeroing in on any of the other characters. At least not all five of the other characters.
So, I’ve been kicking around the idea of scaling it back to just three other fighters, for a total of four. It serves my purpose in a few ways, might allow me to really dig deeper in the leftovers. Who knows? I’m still mushing it around in my head.
Made me start thinking about stories with large ensemble casts, though, to see how they manage it and to see what I was doing differently. JR Ward and Sherrilyn Kenyon both have ongoing series with enough characters that they could play basketball and still have alternates. Yet, their characters all remain unique. Julia Quinn did it with her Bridgertons, though she definitely kept the number of Bridgertons in any given book to a minimum, rarely wrangling the entire crew. In big series, I wonder if it’s hard to get them all together and all characterized without relying on past stories to do your work for you.
JR Ward and Jessica Andersen use a bunch of different POVs in their books. Some people complain that this slows down the story between the H/H. I disagree. I like having a bunch of people’s heads. Makes me feel like I’ve got a wider view of the story.
But there are authors that are strictly one hero’s and one heroine’s POV in their book, with few secondaries. It seems this happens a lot in historicals. The casts are smaller, more focused on the relationship between him and her.
I wonder what you guys think. Do you like big ensemble casts of characters or do you prefer the smaller groups? Do you mind having the secondary characters’ POVs or do you think it distracts from the main story between the H/H? Do your preferences change for urban fantasy or erotica/erotic romance (or any other genre)? Who does a big cast well? Who does one on one well? Thoughts?
In my defense today- I ain't right. Seriously.
The death of villains is a necessary evil in fiction. This is old news for regulars of the blog, but I'm the resident character killer. I don't reserve killing just for the villains. When I feel like I need a change, I axe a character. Anyway that I can find and a few inventive ways depends how I'm feeling at the moment and where my characters are in their growth arc. My general policy is while I'm writing, "whatever works".
My thought process behind killing characters is simple. If the story is stalling, you need sex or a murder. You can't always manage sex (well, okay, I can always manage some sex but if you have sex every 5 pages, my paranormal suspense is going to have a lot of purple prose in it after the first 10 sex scenes and I can only think of a few different ways to describe splinters in your back from the door), but you can always manage a murder or two without killing the story as a whole. There is a little perverted part of my brain that extracts a little joy each time a character dies knowing that it's going to going into the trickle effect of emotional drama. I can't figure out why.
Not that I put a lot of thought into why. Because I'm sure if I did, I would find something extremely wrong with that. Fictional or not. See the beginning of the blog- I ain't right. It's why I'm a writer.
Even before Hellion gifted me with the most wonderful of books, "Cause of Death- A writer's guide to death, murder and forensic medicine." (by Keith D. Wilson, M.D.), I was thinking up ways a character could die. I have quite a few favorites in my repertoire. Once I killed an informant by throwing him into a shark tank. I rather enjoyed that one. Drowning. Suffocating. Bleeding out slowly. Mallet to the temple. Pit bulls. Car explosions. But really in the comments the other day, I got to thinking about all the weird things you could do with killing off a character. All the accidental, quirky, random deaths that happen in the fictional world. I think my favorite part about the fictional world is that I may not know every gruesome detail that goes into writing a death, but I can use my imagination enough to get close. So close that if I put enough detail into it, you can look past my little indiscretions.
So, death by chocolate frosting? A total possibility if you get a little kinky in the sack and someone accidentally chokes (or maybe not so accidentally). Crushed glass pieces in his mashed potatoes? Could happen. I mean, those damned neighbor kids are always bouncing their basketball into your kitchen window and breaking it- you can't help that some of it landed in your bowl as you were mashing them. Loose board on the top step leading into the basement? I swear, I've been bitching at him for two months to fix it.
It's so unfortunate that vehicles have gotten so technically smart. Siphoning out the brake fluid would've been a wonderful option as well. Can't cut the brake line either. Or loosen the lug nuts. It's a shame. Really. Taking a gun and killing a villain is so uninspired. Watching his car drive off a cliff could make my character's night.
Let's think about it.
Well, you don't have to think about it. I'll think about it for you.
Say your character needs a method to get rid of someone, maybe of the opposite sex. If you want it to look accidental, well you gotta think of something very creative. I'll use Kiki as my example of a villainous heroine. (She's a professional problem solver. Not a professional killer. I assure you, there is a difference.)
Kiki is only an example. She's the closest thing in my character list that I can use without pulling her too far from her characterization.
Kiki has a target that needs professional quieting but it needs to look like an accident. She can think about it. Make her plans, watch her mark, learn his routine. She can walk up to him at happy hour at his usual spot, short black dress barely covering her ass as she leans over the bar and asks for a vodka on the rocks. She can look at him playfully over her shoulder and flash him her devastatingly fake smile like she's really interested and turn him onto her. He could be charmed easily by her easy demeanor, the way she playfully chews her bottom lip and fiddles with his silk tie. She could score a night with him by just whispering in his ear. Once they got back to his house, she could make it look like he had a drug overdose. Wouldn't be hard. He has a possession charge from three years prior that was swept under the rug since daddy is in politics. She watched him acquire two eight balls and a sack of pills at lunch. Kiki would be willing to do some lines in order to get the job done.
But that would be too easy for my Kiki. She's sneaky like a ninja. All business. No fun. She doesn't really like to get dressed up and wear a wig out into public. She complains that wigs are itchy and cramp her style. Sadie is more mischievous. In a few years, she would be ripe for this sort of job. Even enjoy it.
Kiki would wait in her car outside the bar, follow him to his house, wait until he goes to sleep and break into his house. Easy to do when you can disable an alarm with a gadget. Easy to do when you can pick a lock like you're magic. Easy to do when there is no guard animal to sound a wake up call. Easy to do when your target has no neighbors close by and a house shaded almost completely in trees. I can almost hear Kiki tsking.
In fact, Kiki thinks to herself, "It's truly a pity he hasn't taken the time to make sure the batteries in his carbon monoxide detectors are good. Even more a pity when this scum sucker doesn't wake up in the morning." And once the plan is set, get out and go about business as usual.
Clean. Efficient. Quiet.
Kiki will be sitting at her breakfast bar with a cup of coffee and reading the paper while the guy's alarm is blaring. By the time his office calls, she's already in the shower getting ready for her routine day. When his secretary drops by and finds him non-responsive, Kiki's driving across town to her office building. Just a few minutes inside the house has the secretary feeling nauseous. She calls 911 but it was too late before she even walked through the door. The ambulance speeds past Kiki's car on it's way to the emergency. And Kiki graciously pulls over to let them past and continues on her way like nothing happened.
You might think this is difficult to think up but think about this from a writer's standpoint. Is there anything your hero or heroine might be allergic to? Did you know that certain wines to people with severe sulfate allergies can kill in just a few minutes without interference of an EpiPen? (Truly one of my biggest fears. And that is notfor future reference, MM. I've got my eyes on you, you sneaky pirate.) Fears? You know, if your heroine is claustrophobic and gets trapped in an elevator with no one there to buffer her panic, she could send herself into a monstrous panic attack and have cardiac arrest. Someone who is afraid of the water and can't swim could accidentally be flipped into the water while you're speeding around on the boat. Accidental deaths are waiting just around the corner everywhere for your expendable characters. You just have to tap into them in the fictional world.
I know most of you are in the business of writing (or reading!) the HEA or HFN (I prefer HFN) but what is the most unusual murder scene you've read? Saw on one of those crime shows? Imagined up to write in your WIP? And pretty pretty please can someone gift me the wonderful "Armed and Dangerous" book for my birthday? Or Christmas? I've been a good girl all year. I swear- cross my heart.
No takers? C'mon, it's not like I'm going to practice on you.
Dang, I guess I could hit up Santa for the book. It's never too early for a Christmas list...