Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A is for Aviva

Jennifer talks about the heroine of Book 3...

The third book in my Women of Valor series is called Selecting Aviva. I’ve written the first draft and my critique partner who focuses on plot has seen it. She didn’t hate it! So, now I’m starting on first round edits. It needs a lot of work—there are plot holes large enough to fit me into them, Aviva’s profession changes about a quarter of the way through and I need to layer in the Jewish stuff, among other things. But it’s a completed draft, so I’m optimistic.

Aviva was a fun character to write. She’s younger than most of my other heroines—she’s just out of college and working in her first job. Although I started off having her be a museum curator, I couldn’t make that work, so she’s in public relations and is planning a fundraising gala at an art museum. I really wanted to get the museum in somehow, and this worked. She’s got spunk and confidence.

The story takes place in New York City, and she’s tired of the guys she’s been meeting. They all want to be high-powered professionals and try to impress her with their stock portfolio or big plans for the future. Aviva’s not into that. She doesn’t want to compete with a job. She wants to be the most important thing in someone’s life. Thus, the title, Selecting Aviva. The title also works, because Aviva meets the hero at a speed dating event.

Although I expect much of the story to change, here are the opening lines. What do you think?

“Mom, he didn’t stop talking about himself the entire time.”
Aviva Shulman sank onto her bed, phone to her ear, and kicked off her shoes. The fluffy down comforter enveloped her and, for the first time all evening, she heaved a sigh of relief.
   “Oh, honey, maybe he was just nervous.”
   Aviva snorted. “Him? According to his credentials, which he presented to me, in writing no less when we sat down at the table, he closes multi-million dollar real-estate deals with the uber-wealthy of Manhattan on a regular basis. There was no way he was nervous about having dinner with little ole museum curator me.”
   “Don’t disparage yourself, Aviva. You’ve studied hard for your position and you’re good at it. You bring beauty to people and the world needs beauty.”
   Aviva’s chest swelled and her eyes filled with tears. “Oh, mom, I love you.”
   “I love you too.”
   “I think I need a break from dating, though. I haven’t met anyone even halfway decent in months. I’d be better off alone than with these over-inflated, peacock men.”
   “Then take a break, honey. Just don’t get a cat.”


Monday, July 6, 2015

A is for Angel Foster


Ana introduces the heroine of her time travel WIP.

Angel Foster is a CPA/school contract mediator who lost her job due to state budget cuts. Her capable assistant, Ramona Valducci, was given a pink slip, too. Angel suspects Ramona blew one too many gum bubbles in their boss's face, but it was either that or punch the irritating man in the face.

Angel and Ramona open an office but clients are slow in coming. Angel's savings have dwindled to a precarious level when she sees the Brahmin head of a posh Boston private school on the news. He's promising a quick resolution to his stalled teachers' contract. Ramona thinks he's lying, and goads Angel into offering their services on a completion basis. "Be pushy," Ramona counsels. "We're desperate."

           Speculating on the per pupil cost of a RISE meal plan, Angel deposited her briefcase and bag on a table and peeked down each hallway to get a feel for the school.

Shouts and clanging noises echoed at the end of short corridor. Curious, she followed the sound to an auditorium.
A troupe of students rehearsed on a stage set with a woodsy backdrop. Four soldiers in matching breastplates scuffled with a strapping lad dressed like a character out of Sherwood Forest.
Non, non, non.” A man leaped from a seat in the front row and stormed onto the stage. He wore dark tights, a white peasant shirt with billowy sleeves and a pair of dancer’s slippers. He picked up a life-like sword and pointed it menacingly at the woodsman. His accent was distinctly French.    
“Tristan, you are fighting for your life. If you lose, Isolde will be lost to you forever. King Mark’s men outnumber you, but you are the better swordsman. It must look real.”
He set upon the soldiers and plunged his blade recklessly between the chest and upper arm of one. Steel rang against steel as he pursued the soldiers across the stage. He sidestepped a second’s assault and lunged again.
She held her breath. One mistake and she would have to call for an ambulance.
“Do you see?” He stepped to the front of the stage and looked over the orchestra pit. “Madame?”
“Me?” She pointed at her chest in surprise.
“Yes, yes,” he cried impatiently. “Please tell my young friends. The sound, is it important to the feeling?”
            “I believe it is,” she began. “But, don’t you think this is too danger...”
            He ignored her and pushed Tristan back against a giant oak tree. Their weapons were crossed between them. He pressed his forearm into the teenager’s windpipe. “Against me this time,” he ordered. “Fight as if you want to kill me.”
Tristan snarled and shoved back.
The director lost his balance, rolled like a gymnast, landed on his feet with his sword en guard, and charged.
Conjuring up graphic images of first aid manuals, Angel sank helplessly into a seat and prayed he would be the only casualty.
Students and teacher exchanged blow after brutal blow, thrusting and parrying, each gaining and forfeiting advantage.
“That is exactly how it must be done,” he cried, stepping back as abruptly as he had engaged. “Now everyone against Tristan, and remember the order of attack.”
One by one, Tristan dispatched his enemies. Flushed, he whooped victoriously and waved his sword over his head.
Bien, Tristan. Again, please, and be sure to cry out so the audience can share in your efforts.” He jumped off the stage and backed up slowly, fine-tuning the action with one-word commands. “Tres bien. Roger, the instant Tristan inflicts the mortal wound you must puncture the blood bag. Once again. Commence.”
             Finally he was satisfied. “Thank you, mes amis. Put the swords in the prop case and lock it. We practice tomorrow afternoon at one, starting where the soldiers capture Isolde.” He turned, looked down at her and smiled. “Thank you for your assistance, Madame. I have not had the pleasure. Jeremy Dumont at your service.”
            “Angel Foster.”
Enchanté, Angel Foster.” To her surprise, he scooped up her hands, raised them to his lips and kissed the knuckles of both ring fingers.
He breathed heavily. Beads of sweat clung to the dark curls that covered his forehead. He had a long, aristocratic nose, high cheekbones and coal-black, smoldering eyes. His shirt had come untied at the neck and exposed a seductive slit of muscular chest.
She didn’t dare to look lower. He could have been a photographer’s model for an exotic perfume or the movie poster for a new rendition of Alexander Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. He was older than she first thought; the precise word was mature. The thought that he would be an extraordinary lover surfaced before she could trap it, before she could banish it to the mental dungeon where she confined all such unwelcome notions.
“I have searched the world for you, my love.” He swept her into his arms. “After all this time, you have come to me.”
“What are you doing?” She twisted free, scrambled over the back of her seat and tugged on the jacket of her suit. “Mr. Montague will be here any minute.”
Je sais. I know.” His passion cooled slightly. “He has an eye for women, but I would never have expected him to have found you.”
“Excuse me?” She wanted to laugh. He was outrageous. She could only imagine the impact he’d had on the school’s insurance premiums.
“Do you believe in destiny, Miss Foster?” He reached for her left hand. “It is Miss, is it not?”
            “Yes.” Feeling both besieged and foolish, she slid it behind her back. This had gone on long enough.
“Certain things in life are destined, don’t you agree?”
“Mr. Dumont,” she said firmly. “I am here for the negotiation session, and I believe you are one of the teachers I will be working with.”
“My compatriots and I determined to have our way.”
             She seized on the turn in their conversation. “I need to understand exactly what you want.”
“What I want? Phft.” He threw himself into her empty seat. “What does anyone who works with children want? Modern educational systems treat children as if they were miniature adults with hollow heads, needing only to have facts and rules poured into them like sand into a bottle. I believe it best that a child learn to discover truth for himself. Show him the wonder that is everywhere in the world and he will find his own way to it.”
“Go on,” she said carefully.
“It is about teaching, Angel Foster. It is about having the freedom to do what is best for each child.” He jumped up, lowered his voice and moved scandalously close. “You must understand. I am fanatical about this. It is my life’s work. Fait attention, my love. Here comes his Highness, le Roi.”

            George Montague tramped down the aisle. “Miss Foster, I conduct interviews in my office. I do not appreciate having to look for you.”
“She was kind enough to help with the rehearsal, George,” Jeremy Dumont said. “I needed someone to judge how the sound carried from the stage.” He leaned in conspiratorially. “Judges often seat a spy in the back row during competitions."
Montague nodded.
"George, the teachers will come back to the negotiating table only if Miss Foster mediates."
Montague eyed her 
“The boardroom in thirty minutes, Dumont. Miss Foster, come with me."

Angel is slim with short brown hair.--almost like a novice nun's. Jeremy, who remembers her from a past life, where she was a young noble woman with luxurious black hair to her waist, thinks this proves Angel has been waiting for him--fulfilling the promises they made to each other just before he killed her. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Sunday Snippet from Jennifer's WIP

Here's what I'm working on right now. It's very raw...

Chapter One
It wasn’t the crash that registered right away. The thump was in the periphery, a noise that stood out a little more than the background conversations floating around her as she chatted with friends in the lobby of the synagogue. It was the silence in the aftermath that drew her attention.  The silence, followed by a gasp and a mass of people moving toward the opposite end of the lobby.
Marnee looked away from her book club friends and saw several people clustered together. Their voices were loud, but unintelligible, as they all spoke at once. As they moved, she saw them assisting an elderly man who had obviously fallen. She watched them, knowing it was pointless to add to the crowd. Off to the side was a teenager, who’d been moved out of the way by the ever-helpful crowd and was now looking as if she’d like to melt into the ground. With a half-smile, the kind you give to a kindred soul, she walked over to her.
“You know, if you kind of look through all of them, put your shoulders back and position your lips into a semblance of a smile, no one will notice how embarrassed you are,” she said to the teen.
The teen whipped around to Marnee and slumped. “Excuse me?”
Marnee held out her hand, and after a couple of seconds, the teen took it. “Hi, I’m Marnee. Growing up with three older brothers who took great pleasure in embarrassing me, I thought I’d pass along a little of the wisdom I’ve accrued.” She looked at the teen’s red cheeks and shook her head. “I don’t have any suggestions for stopping a blush, though. Wish I did because it drives me crazy even today.”
The teen drew her hands to her cheeks and closed her eyes for a moment. “Great, just great. Oh, I’m Tess. Sorry, my dad would kill me for my lack of manners.”
“Your dad?”
Tess nodded toward a grey haired man who was limping over to them, leaning heavily on his cane. “Yeah, he tripped on a piece of carpeting. I tried to help, but they sort of took over.” She took a few steps toward him. “Are you okay?”
The man gave a rueful laugh. “My pride is hurt more than anything else. Sorry I embarrassed you, sweetie.”
Marnee looked at the man she’d thought of as elderly and vowed to get her eyes checked. Sure, his salt and pepper hair had fooled her from a distance, but he was obviously one of those prematurely grey people, because his face was unlined, his eyes a bright piercing blue, his jaw square and his bearing straight and sure. His hand, which grasped his cane, was powerful and not marked with age spots. This was no elderly grandpa and Marnee gulped. He was actually really attractive.
He turned his gaze on Marnee and looked at her with interest. Marnee stepped forward, feeling that hated blush heating her cheeks. “Hi, I’m Marnee. So you survived the flock?”
His laughter was warm and deep. “Yes, I did. I’m afraid I once again embarrassed Tess though.”
They both looked toward where Tess had moved to lean against the wall and use her phone.
“I hear that’s possible just by breathing, so I’m not sure I’d worry too much,” Marnee said.
“Oh, you have a teenager?”
“No, but I was one. And I have three older brothers who all have children, and one of my nieces is just turning thirteen this year, so...”
“So you’re very well prepared. I thought so, when I saw her actually talking to you, rather than running away.”
“I doubt she would have run away without knowing if you were okay.”
He shrugged. “True. And she didn’t go far, which is an improvement. I should probably thank you.”
He held out his hand and she let him grasp hers. His handshake was firm and warm and this close to him, she could smell his spicy aftershave. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Z is for Zero

Debra talks about starting a project.

Is there anything scarier, more overwhelming, and downright nerve-wracking than staring at a blank computer screen at the start of a new story? Page count: zero. Word count: zero. I mean, there's just so much pressure to get started. That first blank, white page will need to be filled with words. Top to bottom. And then another one after that. And another. And so on...so there's only one place to start. We type 'Chapter One'...and now, magically, we're no longer at zero. Now our word count is two. The page isn't blank anymore. Soon (hopefully) we make it to the bottom of the page and our page count moves to one. Eventually those zeroes we started out with turn to bigger numbers and we are able to see the progress we're making. But starting out can be mighty intimidating. Because filling those pages isn't enough. Once they're filled, then we need to edit them, and polish them, and send them off and keep our fingers crossed our editor will offer us a contract. And pray we won't have a big fat zero in our sales column.

On the other hand, is there anything greater, more thrilling, and downright exciting than starting a new story? Page count: zero. Word count: zero. Just pages of endless possibility stretching before us. Sometimes we aim for that zero to turn into a specific word count or page count. Sometimes we simply track our progress as we go, and our story grows, and we tell it how it needs to be told, using as many (or as few) words as necessary until we reach the HEA. Our pages could go from zero to one hundred or zero to four hundred. Our words can go from zero to ten thousand or zero to one hundred thousand. Numbers with lots of zeroes at the end. And once we're finished we edit them, and polish them, and send them off and keep our fingers crossed that after our book is published we get lots of zeroes right after the number next to the dollar sign on our royalty checks.

Yep, at the beginning we always start at zero. And it's amazing to see how far we go from there.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Debra
www.debrastjohnromance.com

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Zest


Paula asks if our stories have 'zest'
 
There are two main dictionary definitions of zest: Flavor or piquancy, and interest or excitement.
 
I would suggest that our stories need to include both.
 
The flavor or piquancy can often come through the setting/location of our stories. We can build in a ‘feel’ for the location, without necessarily going into lengthy descriptions. In cookery, this flavor comes from the outer skin of a citrus fruit which is grated and added in small quantities to dishes. In the same way, we can add that flavor to our stories, often with a few well-chosen words to describe a setting. In ‘Irish Inheritance’, I rarely used more than one sentence to describe either the scenery or the town or the view from Mist Na Mara House etc, but many of the reviewers commented about my ‘wonderful’ descriptions of Ireland. Somehow (and I’m not really sure how!) I managed to convey the ‘flavor’ of Ireland. My old English teacher would be proud of me—or maybe she wouldn’t, because I used to hate having to write ‘descriptive essays’ for her on topics like ‘A Summer Meadow' or ‘An Angry Sea’. Maybe that’s why I now keep my descriptions to a minimum! It’s also, I think, because I don’t like reading lengthy descriptions and I've heard other people saying the same thing. The trick seems to be to add enough ‘zest’ to allow a reader to imagine a scene.

Zest in the sense of interest and excitement comes from the pacing of a story. Again, that means no lengthy descriptions, and definitely no long episodes/conversations/whatever which slow the story down without adding anything significant to the plot or the characters. I am always delighted when one of my readers says, or a reviewer writes, ‘I couldn’t put it down.’ Once you have captured readers' interest in the plot and engaged them with the characters, they will carry on reading. Oh, and a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter helps too. If you have captured their imagination and interest, they’ll keep turning the pages—even when it is long past their bedtime!

 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Z is for Zander

Jennifer talks pen names...

When I first started writing, I had grand ideas for what I wanted my name to be. First, I wanted to use my first and middle names—Jennifer Alison—for shelf placement.

But shelf placement isn’t as important as it once was.

Then I wanted to use a completely different name. Except, when I told my mom, she thought I should use my real name—I think she might have wanted some bragging rights. J

So then my decision was between my maiden name, Zander, and my married name, Wilck. I thought about it for a while. Since shelf placement isn’t as important with the proliferation of e-books, and honestly, even if it was, the difference between “Z” and “W” is minimal, there wasn’t a compelling reason to use, or not use, either name. It all came down to personal preference.

When I was first married, I used my maiden name professionally, as people knew me by Zander. And to transition, I used both for a while. But I’ve been out of the traditional workplace for a while, and everyone knows me as “Wilck” now. In fact, many people who know me and might be inclined to buy my books wouldn’t know to look under “Zander.” So I decided to go with “Jennifer Wilck.”


Do you use a pen name?