Sunday, April 30, 2006
It was a great chance for a group of writers to gather and share. We plotted several story lines and critiqued a few others. We had discussions about everything from family issues, political viewpoints and our favorite movies/heroes/heroines, but mostly on the ins and outs of the writing life: contests, publishing, marketing, etc.
Saturday evening we shared something very personal: the music that we enjoy playing while we write. The selections varied, as you might guess! A few were calm and peaceful, such as Enya’s “Watermark,” evoking ideas of sensual exploration and fulfillment of pent up passion. One – 10CC’s “I’m Not In Love” – made each of us recall memories of past loves and losses. The rowdiest song was by Nickel Back, though I cannot recall the title (must have been the beer…) and was hard hitting and about driving fast, loving hard, and loving all of it!
Though not really surprising, the spectrum of music that we write to also reflected our individual personalities. My song was by Enya, and I use it more as white noise to filter out other background noises, and to bring about the freethinking peace that seems part and parcel of the sound. I have listened to the CD on repeat for years, never tiring of its clear, calm path it gives me for writing. I don’t often vary the music I choose to listen to, though I sometimes leave the radio on a pop or country station (turned way down low). Either way, it creates a background and thus is not something I’m actually listening to.
I heard some other writers say they pick a piece of music that speaks to them about the story they are currently writing. The hard driving rock and roll was selected not only because it reflected the life of the author who chose it, but because it fit the vampire stories she was writing, with lots of sex and erotica. Another author said she chose her piece by Rachmaninoff because the flow of the music paralleled the flow of the story she was working on, a slow building of passion with the resolution and ensuring cuddling and dozing that followed the lovemaking.
Do you have a band, musical selection, or other musical choice that you use to help you write? How do you choose what you listen to?
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Romance Novel or Novel with Strong Romantic Elements.
When writing romance, the primary story is the romance, while other matters take second place. This can be true in either a romantic suspense, a paranormal romance, or any of a number of special subgenres.
My muse tends to lead me in a slightly different direction. While my books have strong romances, it tends to be the second theme and not the primary one. The paranormal elements rule my books, and they put my characters in difficult and dangerous situations. Fighting together to survive puts my hero and heroine together, and they fall in love, usually despite themselves and their own desires.
I have read wonderful novels in both genres. And I will continue to enjoy both in the future.
What about you? Does your muse point you toward a particular genre or style of writing? Or does it vary from story to story?
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Congratulations also to Rhonda Nelson (June release 4-1/2 stars The Player) and Sherrilyn Kenyon (May release 4-1/2 stars The Dark Side of the Moon).
We're proud that you're part of Southern Magic!
Monday, April 24, 2006
My friend Melanie Hayden blogs today about setting for her novels. Where do you set your novels, and why?
My adult romantic comedy Your Cheatin’ Heart, about a country band gone wild and the record company publicist sent to tame them, is set in Birmingham. Originally I planned to set it in Key West, where I’ve been on vacation three times. But I don’t know Key West like the back of my hand, and I felt that researching the place was getting in the way of my creative process. I couldn’t “see” the events of the novel happening in Key West like I could here. So here the book came. The band shares a mansion in Mountain Brook and plays a Fourth of July Nationally Televised Concert Event at the base of the statue of Vulcan. Setting the novel here worked out well, I thought, because Vulcan’s naked fanny shining over Homewood is the funniest thing ever. You can’t make this stuff up.
The setting of my YA romantic comedy Major Crush was a no-brainer: it happens in a small town on a lake, very much like Alexander City, where I grew up. But my last novel and my WIP take a departure. The setting for my YA romance Boy in Blue, about a 17-year-old who avoids prosecution for a high school stunt by spending spring break assigned to night patrol with the 19-year-old rookie cop who arrested her, is set in a combination of Trussville, Moody, and Chelsea. No one would recognize this town, because it doesn’t exist. But most people would understand the complicated dynamics of a small town that used to be an entity of itself and recently has become part of a larger metropolitan area as the big city reached out to meet it. My WIP, another adult romantic comedy—well, imagine the Germanic tackiness of Helen, Georgia, transplanted to the approximate location of Horse Pens 40. Even though I have never been to these imaginary places, I think I have a good feel for the characters and problems we’d likely find in most Alabama towns.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
Last week on Miss Snark I saw this quote attributed to Joshilyn Jackson, author of GODS IN ALABAMA and BETWEEN, GEORGIA, April 4, 2006, Faster Than Kudzu, writing about opening a book with immediate conflict. "I think the best way to let the reader meet your characters is to put them all in a room and then light one of them on fire."
The one opening line I've always remembered is from Julie Garwood's HONOR'S SPLENDOUR. "They meant to kill him." I immediately want to know who and why. Now, this book is copyrighted in 1987, so it's almost ten years since I first read it. Lately, I can't seem to remember much of anything, but this I remember.
One of the hardest things for me to learn was where to start my book. I always wanted to start at the beginning and in fiction, that's not the best place to start. Even today, I still sometimes struggle to find the right place.
Lest someone take my statements the wrong way, I'm certainly not saying all books have to open with a singular line to grab attention. Some of mine do. In "Be Mine" (winner of the 2002 National Reader's Choice Award) my novella in MY FUNNY VALENTINE my opening line is "My family is demented." In THE DUCHESS & THE DEVIL the opening is "The devil strolled through the door." My other three books don't start with a snappy one-liner, but hopefully, they still garner interest.
Do you have any memorable opening lines? How do you decide where to start your manuscript?
Friday, April 21, 2006
Oh, who needs a subject?
Did you know that your sense of smell is extremely important to recalling memories? The sense of smell evokes memories in a way that no other senses do. The sense of smell is also key to how we process our environment--we can actually smell fear, though we don't necessarily process it consciously. The sense of smell can play an important role in your story, whether it's the scent of a lover evoking a memory, the acrid odor of smoke giving warning of danger, or the smell of home cooking whetting an appetite--and your description of those smells will bring about a similar reaction in the reader, drawing her deeper into your story.
For more information about the sense of smell, this article is chock full of scientific information that could provide fodder for ways you could use the sense of smell in your stories.
Touch is especially important in romances because touch is vital to intimacy. The obvious use of touch is in love scenes, where touch is key to building sexual closeness and giving pleasure. But touch has other uses in fiction. Where, when, how and how often characters touch each other helps convey to a reader whether or not the relationship is advancing or retreating. People in harmony touch each other almost without thinking. For people in conflict, however, touch is like a loaded weapon. They weigh the consequences of touch--will he read the wrong message into it? Will it bring us closer? Will I be able to stop touching him even though I don't trust him? Will my touch make him as vulnerable to me as I am to him?
Characters who have been in harmony--and therefore touching each other often--may stop touching when they are hiding things from each other, out of fear that they may convey by touch the secrets they're trying to keep from one another. Use the sense of touch to give your readers cues to the emotional state of the characters and their relationship with one another.
Sometimes I think taste is the hardest sense to write, for a couple of reasons. First, people usually can't choose what they see, hear or smell, and sometimes they can't help what they feel with their sense of touch. But generally, people can choose what they taste, and they can be very picky about it! For instance, I love salsa, mushrooms and sweet red peppers. My best friend Jenn won't eat any of those, and no matter how beautifully I describe the way those things taste to me, she's not going to be impressed. So I can find it intimidating to write about tastes. Taste is so subjective.
Second, taste is the sense that is most intricately intertwined with other senses. For instance, have you ever eaten a food that you didn't like because you didn't like the texture of it in your mouth? My friend Jenn doesn't like mushrooms because of how they feel on her tongue. And how many people won't eat a crawfish because of how it looks on the plate? Plus, taste is particularly bound to smell; scientists believe that 75% of what we call taste is actually smell. (Have you ever noticed that when you have a bad head cold, and your nose is stuffed up, your food doesn't taste as good? That's why).
However, taste can bring a lot of texture to your story. When I describe the "chalky, fake-orange" taste of antacids my character is chewing, you can imagine it. You can understand his grimace of distaste, get a sense of just how churned up his stomach must be for him to be eating antacids like candy. If I have my heroine becoming nearly orgasmic over the rich, sweet-tart taste of a chocolate-covered strawberry, you can imagine why the hero's eyes glaze over and his jeans feel a little too tight as he watches her eat it.
So remember, when you're writing your story, try to engage all of your reader's senses. It's the best way to suck her into the world of your story and the lives of your characters.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Congratulations to Southern Magic's 2005 National Readers' Choice Awards finalists!
Best First Book:
Carolynn Carey - A Summer Sentence
Kathleen Long - Get Bunny Love
Kelley St. John - Good Girls Don't
Lynn Collum - The Captain
Gayle Wilson - Wednesday's Child
Kelley St. John - Good Girls Don't
Carolynn Carey - A Summer Sentence
Way to go, ladies!
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
I began writing my first manuscript almost five years ago. And, like so many new writers, didn't know a thing other than I had a story inside me that I had to tell. Formatting a manuscript? Uh, what's that? POV, HEA, TSTL and SDT were as much a mystery to me as why my dog has to circle three times before she lies down. I was clueless.
But then, once I finished that first manuscript and began submitting, yes, my eyes were opened -- wide. Sometimes they were filled with tears too - but that's all part of the learning process.
One thing I've learned above all others is how incredibly generous other romance authors are --published and non-published. Giving of their time, talent, experience, wisdom...you name it, they give it.
I've learned an incredible amount in the last five years, but still have so much to learn. It's nice to know that there are so many out there who are willing to help me on my journey.
I discovered years ago, even before I started to write, you can learn from anyone at any stage. I've learned from multi-published NYT bestselling authors and I've learned from authors who have been writing a few months.
No, there's no quick and easy path to publishing. If there were, what would be the fun and challenge in that? One of the best things about this business is the learning and growing and yes Carla, those amazing epiphanies.
The advice I've received along the way has kept me going, kept me motivated and kept me sane -- well, almost.
And the best advice I've received? Oh my, that's hard to say. But, if I had to choose one, it'd be a simple one. Unfortunately I can't give credit to one particular person, since I've heard this from so many. And that advice? Just write the damned book. Stop staring at a blank screen, worrying whether the story is right for today's market, what will my family and friends think, etc. Stop worrying, stop procrastinating and stop making excuses. Write the damned book!
What about you? What's the best advice you've received? What advice would you give others -- newbies and multipublished authors. What's the single number one truth that keeps you going, keeps those creative juices flowing, refusing to let you give up?
Come on, share! I could use some more advice!
Monday, April 17, 2006
And not the divine type. ::g::
Editors are human, too. I’m one of those people that will agonize over a partial sent to an editor – you know, the one that you found a word missing on page fourteen, third paragraph, second sentence. DRAT! THE EDITOR WILL THINK I’M SO UNPROFESSIONAL! I have to keep telling myself that though I want the manuscript to be perfect, it’s the story that matters. And the voice helps…a lot. What does that have to do with editors being human? The last two books I’ve read I found irritating errors in them. Since I like the authors a lot and admire the large publishing houses they came from, I was surprised – more than anything that I caught them. Strangely, I took encouragement from it. I know, I’m weird. But we all keep hearing how your manuscript must be the best it can be (and it probably wasn't the author's fault -- maybe a copy editor or whoever) and when you still find errors after sending it…well, I’ve decided to keep striving for perfection, but not to sweat the small stuff when I mess up.
Published authors are human, too. I’m fortunate enough to talk almost monthly with several successful and well-known authors, and I have found they worry about the same things I do. Will the editor like my new proposal? Will I run out of ideas? Is the market changing faster than I can write that certain story? Some of us believe that once we’re published that all our problems will be solved. That every story that we write after the first book will be accepted. Only in a fantasy world! Even knowing the drawbacks, I STILL WANT TO BE PUBLISHED!
I am human, too. Though I'm not surprised. As I mentioned above, I want to be perfect, but I know that’s not possible. Yet I keep trying, personally and professionally. One of the biggies I’ve learned, is that if I keep writing and studying the craft, I will one day reach what I conceive to be a publishable level. Of course, I like to think I’m there now. Even so, I will keep working on improving, changing, bringing more of my inner-self into my writing. Inner-self? No. I don’t have a split personality -- no matter what my CPs say -- I haven’t lived a former life as a vampire or magazine mogul (check out my website to understand that). The inner-self is more to do with the emotion you show in your writing. That’s where I pull grief, happiness, apprehension, love, desire, terror, etc. and place it into my story. I want my books to give you a roller-coaster ride in emotions. That’s why I read. That’s why I write. AND I HOPE IT’S ONE HELLVA RIDE!
You're probably wondering what the picture of Stuart Townsend as Lestat had to do with what I was talking about. Really nothing. I just thought he was sexy and wanted to share. ::g:: You're welcome.
So tell me, what are some truths you’ve learned since you started writing?
Sunday, April 16, 2006
So with all this waiting, I have loads of time to watch. And I do! I watch the birds, which often proves distracting when I’m driving. I love to see the hawks swoop and dive after some critter along the roadside or just perched on a power line or fence post. They are so regal and observant. I watch the sunset, the clouds scudding across the sky, or the rising column of smoke from someone’s trash fire. I watch the trees shimmy and dance in the breeze from the traffic on the highway or those standing sentry along a hilltop. My sister reminded me that I should take time to stop and smell the roses. Believe me, I spend a great deal of time sitting on a log or jump, shading my eyes from the sunshine or huddled under an umbrella in the middle of a verdant field experiencing nature! Trust me on that.
What I love most to watch though are the people around me, whether at a show, the airport, a clinic, or conference. How they walk or stand. How they talk with their hands, their eyebrows, their shoulders – oh, and their mouths! Facial expressions are particularly fascinating to me, especially as I try to form a unique phrase in my mind that would capture the expression without it being a cliché. I try to notice how people are dressed, but the clothing doesn’t capture my attention. It’s the eyes, the stance, the soul of the person that grabs me. (I fell in love with my husband partly because I am captivated by his eyes, which change hue based on his mood, lighting, the day of the week! On certain days, I feel like I could fall into the depths of his eyes and stay there forever.)
I had an interesting discussion with another writer last year about how different people notice different aspects of a person. She related the story of a couple who watched a lady approach their table at a restaurant. He noticed the woman’s face, she noticed her walk. This observation made me realize that when I describe a person in a story it would make sense to completely describe them because the reader will identify with one aspect or another, if not the entire character. Then each reader has an anchor point to connect with a character.
This is not as easy as it sounded in my novice writer’s head! Why? Because I naturally focus on only some features, and those are the ones I write about easily. I have to go back and add in other descriptive details to “round out” my characters.
So my question to you is, what is the first thing you notice about a person when you meet them or see them again?
Friday, April 14, 2006
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Looking For Love. This is one of the most common themes for novels in all areas of women's fiction. Some characters are seeking romance, while others are avoiding it, and fall into love accidentally. When thinking about storylines, I always consider whether my characters are going to be looking for love or not.
In many romance novels, the heroine is looking for love while the hero is trying to avoid commitment. There are other novels that take this relationship in the other direction, with the hero actively trying to get the reluctant heroine to marry him.
The character who is seeking love is certainly common, and I think we all feel that way at some point in our lives. But I generally find the one who falls in love despite their best intentions more interesting. And if both characters are avoiding a relationship, this can be even better. There is a greater degree of tension, and resolving that tension is critical to making the story work.
What do you think? Do you prefer your characters to be seeking love, or running away from it?
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
You make us proud, ladies!
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
I thought about the experiment this morning when I e-mailed my critique partner Vicki some eye-hurtingly brilliant ideas for the new novel she’s plotting. She might end up writing the opposite of my ideas. Thinking about how wrong my ideas are might take her in an entirely new direction. Nothing would surprise me more than if she used my ideas. (Update: Vicki's response to my eye-hurting brilliance was, "Nooooooooooooooo!")
Vicki and I work great together because we “get” each other’s writing. That’s where the similarities stop. Her first drafts are heavy on internal conflict, mine are all external, and we compensate in opposite directions. She writes historicals and paranormals, whereas I write adult and YA contemporary comedy. We’ve said we have the same sense of humor, but I’m not sure even this is true. We laugh at the same jokes, but the jokes we make are very different. No wonder the plotline that seems obvious to me is foreign to her, and vice-versa. I’m sure that if the two of us agreed each to write a novel from the same topic sentence or even the same synopsis, by the time we were done, no one would be able to tell we started at the same place.
Sunday, April 09, 2006
I admit I'm a pantser. I write by the seat of my pants. Or as someone once said, "I write into the mist." I know my characters and what their goals, motivation, and conflict are, but I don't know how they will get from A to Z. I agree with Gayle Wilson. What's the point of telling a story if you've already told it in all that plotting?
So, what's your method? Do you plot? Do you know every detail before you write your book?
Friday, April 07, 2006
I've recently given some thought to the appeal of fanfic, and I've come to the conclusion that all popular fiction is, in a way, fanfiction. For one thing, plenty of books and articles have documented the patterns that almost all fiction has in common--archetypes, themes, plots, story rhythms, etc., suggesting that whoever it was who said there's no such thing as a new plot, only fresh and interesting twists on old ones, was right. But beyond that, I think that for a lot of writers--perhaps even most of us--the emotional and creative drive to write comes out of a similar dissatisfaction with "the way things are" that drives people to write fanfic.
We want to revisit old archetypes and plots and revisit them, twisting the set-ups, the settings, the endings, the beginnings, providing an alternate take on an eternal story. Perhaps we decide that "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" isn't really enough of an ending for Scarlett and Rhett. So we create a new story, set up new situations for archetypal characters (the headstrong heroine, the bad boy, the villain with a heart of gold, etc.) so that their outcomes are different this time.
We're finding creative power in our dissatisfaction.
I've recently had trouble trying to come up with new ideas for novels. But one day, as I was discussing fanfic with my friend Jenn, we were discussing all the weird ways fanfic writers twist Jane Austen's classic stories, setting them in high schools, on different planets, you name it. During the discussion, we jokingly came up with the idea to turn Jane's books into spy thrillers, a la Tom Clancy.
Then, suddenly, it wasn't a joke. It was an idea. Why not play with the archetypes and plots of Jane Austen, only twist them to fit a contemporary romance thriller? Address some of the ways that Jane Austen's stories didn't quite meet my personal needs for fiction (e.g., where's the dead body, Jane? Where's the twisty, turny mystery I love so much?) Take the basic story conflicts--rich versus poor, pride versus prejudice, sense versus emotionality and modernize them to reflect current day conflicts. Raise the stakes, make the conflicts more immediate, modern and dangerous, and see where the "what ifs" take you?
I'm not talking about stealing plots or characters. I'm talking about taking inspiration from stories I love or stories that didn't entirely satisfy me with their outcomes, settings or depth. I'm rethinking characters, situations, conflicts and resolutions and figuring out how to tell them in new ways, with new outcomes and new themes.
Have you been so inspired by a particular character or set of characters that you wanted to give them (or their archetypes) a different ending or a new and exciting adventure? Hit the comments link and tell us all about it.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
And another big "way to go" to SM member Lyn Stone, whose received a very nice write-up in the May issue of Romantic Times, and whose most recent novel, STRAIGHT THROUGH THE HEART, was an RT Top Pick, with 4½ stars!
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Now reading it? Oh my, I think I was reading before I learned to walk. Okay, I didn't start out with romance but I did start reading it fairly early. It was the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries at first and then I discovered romance -- probably around the age of ten. Does anyone remember Emily Loring or Grace Livingston Hill? I gobbled down every one of their wonderfully rich and inspiring stories.
I was even grounded as a teenager from reading because it was the only thing I wanted to do. Yep, I was that boring.
I was hooked. I veered from the path from time to time with straight suspense, horror and mainstream fiction, but I always returned to romance. Why? Because of the wonderful feel good qualities the stories always gave me. I knew, no matter what my brave heroines and heroes had to go through, in the end, love would triumph.
I love to close a book with a sigh of contentment. That HEA just makes my day brighter and my heart lighter.
So what about you? Why do you love romance? Why do you read it? Why do you write it? What brought you into the world of romance? What early authors inspired you? Who inspires you now?
WHEN A STRANGER CALLS
Intrigues don't stay on the shelves long (sometimes less than a month), but you can always order them online from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Books a Million and other online book stores. And of course, there's always eHarlequin.com for Harlequin and Silhouette books.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Finalists in the Virginia Romance Writers' HOLT Medallion for Published Writers:
A Summer Sentence by Carolynn Carey
Get Bunny Love by Kathleen Long
Good Girls Don't by Kelley St. John
Wednesday's Child by Gayle Wilson
First Coast Romance Writers' Beacon Award for Unpublished Writers:
1st Place - Die Again by Annie Oortman
3rd Place - The Ones by Carla Swafford
Way to go, ladies!
Yeah, yeah, yeah. You think I’m crazy. I was never a soap opera watcher until 2001 when Port Charles started with a vampire story. Then I was hooked. Now Port Charles didn’t have the best writing or actors, but by watching it, I found General Hospital. Of course, first the gorgeous men caught my eye, but the story lines and the characters kept me watching. I have to admit I do use the fast forward button (as I work full time and have to record it). That’s only when certain characters are on the screen that I don’t like. But that has to say something about the writing, if it goads me into disliking an actor’s character or the storyline so much.
Look at the characters. You have the dark and brooding mobster, Sonny Corinthos (Maurice Benard). He’s got alpha male written all over him. Past baggage galore, a dangerous lifestyle from his "export" business along with a soft heart for his kids and the woman he loves. He demands loyalty at all cost and returns it two-fold. Talks soft and has the type of eyes you could drown in
Then you have his second-in-command, Jason Morgan (Steve Burton). He’s alpha male without all the brooding and emotion Sonny easily exudes. Jason will kill when ordered, but uses restraint when needed. He appears cold to the world, but feels more deeply than most realizes.
There are several good looking and interesting males, but I have to mention one of the younger characters. Nikolas Cassadine (Tyler Christopher). Oh, my, talk about sexy and making my eyes happy. When he takes off his shirt (required for every soap opera star), I do not move or breathe until he leaves the screen.**DH has to revive me** He has tattoos that I would love to rub off...oops, sorry, got side tracked. His character is alpha male with a little beta but in a good way. He’s a prince, charming (no pun intended), well-bred, and filthy rich. He might not beat up the bad guys with his fists, but he could easily use an epee.
Of course, you’re wanting to know about the plotting. You really need to watch it. The writers often have one or two storylines going that I think I know where it’s going, then POW! they surprise me. Don’t get me wrong. They work at making it believable. But they do occasionally expect the viewer to make a leap of faith. Besides like I said earlier, if I don’t like the storyline, I can always fast forward.
What TV show or movie helped you in your writing?
Saturday, April 01, 2006
If it’s not my computer, then it might be my dad wanting to share some tidbit of news, or my daughter needing guidance, or the dogs barking at a strange car pulling up our long drive, or the phone ringing. Notice it’s not the dirty dishes, or laundry or television that gets me. I’m not consciously avoiding sitting down to write. I really do want to be writing.
So, the best thing for me to do is pack up my laptop and head to a place where I can set up and write among other people who have laptops (so I don’t stick out in the crowd). Usually a place that has wi-fi works well, and I buy a coffee or soda and get to work. Then I can become anonymous and write for a few hours without the interruptions I find at home.
How do you handle distractions and interruptions with your own writing?