Thursday, September 29, 2016

M is for Marine

Debra always wanted to write a story with a military hero.

I knew a bit of how I wanted the story to go. I even wrote the opening scene in which we meet our Marine hero. And then it kind of languished. I didn't do much else with it.

Then the idea to do a series of holiday stories came to me. When I got to the Fourth of July one, my Marine was the perfect fit. There's not much of anything that's more patriotic than someone who has chosen to serve his (or her) country.

I wanted to do Tyler right. Make him the epitome of a Marine: the few, the proud. With a set of values and commitment that matched. Honorable. Strong. Brave. A warrior. A fighter. On the other hand, I didn't want him to be too alpha. Most of my heroes are an alpha/beta hybrid.

I've known a few Marines in my time, and I like to think that Tyler is a mix of all the very best of those men.

A lot of times the heroes in our stories are larger than life. In this case, there wasn't a whole lot of stretching to do. Real world military personnel do seem larger than life to me. People to honor and commend and to stand in awe of what they do and what they sacrifice. Real life heroes.

Did I get Tyler absolutely perfect? In my eyes...yes. (Then again, I do tend to think all of my heroes are pretty darn perfect...flaws and all.) Would a real life Marine agree? Maybe. Maybe not. After all, it's still a work of fiction, and some things have to be a certain way to make the story work, even if those things are 'off' a bit from reality. Tyler does come home injured, but he's probably a bit too well adjusted after having served three overseas tours of active duty in Afghanistan.

But it was an honor to write a story about a United States Marine. And everything he stands for.

Semper Fi.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Memos to Myself

Paula reminds herself of what she should and should not be doing.  

Memo 1: Must stop being diverted by my inner editor and learn to write a first draft without agonising over every little detail. I can fix those in the first big edit of the story once it’s all written. So (a) if I can’t think of the exact word I need, I should put something similar, then highlight it so I can come back to it later
(b) if I know I’m using a word or phrase too many times, I should ignore it in the first draft (and again highlight it for future editing)

Memo 2: Must also stop being diverted by research, however interesting it might be. For example, why did I stop writing for ages to look for a surname for a minor character? I definitely need to differentiate between research that’s important to the story, and insignificant details I can sort out later.

Memo 3: Must stop procrastinating e.g. 
(a) kidding myself that playing online Solitaire (etc) is my ‘thinking time’ 
(b) checking Facebook every five minutes and then realising an hour has gone by.
(c) being diverted by Google street view because I want to see what is around the next corner.

Memo 4: Must keep going even when I feel like I am wading through treacle.

Memo 5: Must remember that, with every story I’ve written, I’ve gone through the phase of ‘This story is rubbish, it’s going nowhere, no-one will ever want to read it.’ But I’ve carried on and eventually found myself thinking “Hmm, maybe it isn’t too bad after all” and even “Yeah, it’s turned out to be quite a good story after all.” It’s happened before, and it will happen again with the current WIP (I hope!).

There are countless more messages I could give myself but that’s enough for now. What messages do you think you ought to give yourself? 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

M Is For Miriam’s Surrender

Jennifer provides an excerpt...

Miriam’s Surrender is book two in my Women of Valor series. It was one of my favorite books to write, because I was able to redeem the villain from book one and turn him into the hero of book two. Here’s the blurb:

Josh Lowenstein is a successful architect, hired to redesign the alumni club of a posh, private school in New York. He is strong, capable and knows the best way to do everything. Except let another woman in.

Miriam Goldberg is the Assistant Director of Outreach, and is Josh’s day-to-day contact for the redesign. She’s taken care of everyone around her, and forgotten how to let someone else take care of her.

With a tumultuous history, neither one is prepared to work together. As they get to know each other, the animosity disappears, but Josh is hiding something from Miriam and its discovery has the possibility of destroying their relationship. Only when they are both able to let the other in, and release some of the control they exert over everything, will they be able to see if their love can survive.

And here’s a brief excerpt:

Josh sat in the cab and looked out the window. Lights and people and cars and buildings rushed by in a blur. His eyes glazed over and in their place Miriam appeared. Miriam touching his arm and reassuring him, Miriam smiling, Miriam’s hair shining, Miriam looking at him as he bent to kiss her.
Whatever made him do it? When they’d stood outside her apartment in the cold night air, her cheeks had turned pink from the cold. He smiled. She controlled so many of her outward reactions to things, but she couldn’t control that one.
From his height and angle, he’d watched the light from the street lamps shine on her hair, making it appear to glow. Their breath, a white fog, had intermingled as they stood facing each other.
Her lips were soft and plump. He’d spent the evening watching them mold words, stretch into a smile, surround her food as she chewed. He couldn’t help himself; he’d wanted to kiss her. It was the briefest wish. He’d made the slightest move toward her. But in the one too-brief second, he’d glimpsed much more. Her pupils had dilated, she’d raised her face to his and she’d parted her lips. He’d discovered Miriam’s desire.
And now he knew she wanted him, it would take all of his control not to give in to his own need.

Monday, September 26, 2016

M is for Motivation

Ana muses about how characters' motivations help with plotting a story.

As I understand it, in a character driven story, the protagonist has to have something that motivates her (or him) at the beginning of the story. A goal or a problem.

Problems could be boredom. Paralyzing self-doubt. A threat from a dystopian overlord. Lack of money. Abusive boyfriend. Lack of money. Cruel step-mother.

Goals: make partner in the law firm. Win a beauty pageant. Marry the man she loves--but doesn't know she exists. Meet the man of her dreams. Ignore her marriage-obsessed mother and not think about men at all. Finish her current job and take a badly needed vacation. Go on the honeymoon trip even though she got left at the altar.

Once the story world in introduced, the protagonist's  "plan" to achieving her initial goal defines Act 1 of the story. Then things have to get complicated. A new character appears who blocks her path, who interrupts with his mere presence, who won't take no for an answer.

Thinking of the what-ifs--what if he does this, then she would do this-- helps me draft a story arc. Different arcs come to mind, but gradually one rises to the top of the heap. Since all stories are the archetypal themes retold in a new way, I settle on one and start outlining.

The outline will get revised after the first attempt as well as as I write. New ideas pop up. Dead ends become clear. The first draft is round, but the character's motivations and goals are more set. I know the characters better. And I see more obstacles to throw in her path.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

L is for Love

Debra ponders the many different meanings of love.

Not to sound too lame and wedding toastish, but one of the ways (the entry takes up almost half a column in my Webster's) the dictionary defines love is: A feeling of warm personal attachment.

Love is such an interesting concept. We use the word in so many different ways.

We can love pizza.

We can love hockey.

We love our families and friends.

We love our spouses (or sweethearts or significant others).

The same word can mean so many different things and have so many different levels of emotion. The way I feel about pizza and hockey certainly isn't the same way I feel about my family. And the way I feel about my family is a different kind of love than I have for my hubby.

As romance writers we fill our days and pages with love. The love our characters have for inanimate things tells us about them. Their likes, their hobbies, their hopes, their desires. The love (or lack thereof) of their families shapes and defines them. Past relationships can do the same, giving us oodles of background and internal motivation and conflict.

Of course the crux of our stories is the love the heroine and hero will eventually find with each other. Going back to good ol' Webster: a strong or passionate affection for a person of the opposite sex. Love scenes (hopefully) are filled with this passion and emotion.

Yep. Love is an interesting concept. And I love that I get to spend time creating stories about how two hearts and souls come together in love!

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

L is for Luke

Meet Luke, the hero of Paula's second Irish book, Irish Intrigue.

Charley reached Clifden shortly before five o’clock and pulled into the parking area of the supermarket on the outskirts of the small town. Still familiar with the layout of the store, she didn’t take long to collect some basic supplies.
A tall man in a sheepskin jacket stood near the chilled cabinet of yogurts and desserts, speaking on his phone. “Kate, which yogurts do the kids like? Melissa said something about pink pots.”
She reached past him to pick up some mixed fruit yogurts at the same moment as he turned and bumped against her.
“Oops! Sorry,” he said.
“No problem.” She put her yogurts in her shopping trolley, but couldn’t resist pointing further along the cabinet. “The pink pots are those strawberry ones.”
“Thanks.” He gave her a quick smile before speaking into his phone again. “It’s okay, Kate, I see them.”
She started to push her trolley toward the cash desk, but stopped when the man said, “Thanks again, but don’t I know you from somewhere?”
With a small grimace of resignation, she half-turned back to him. She didn’t recall meeting him when she lived here, but perhaps he’d seen her on television. Or else it was a clich├ęd chat-up line.
“I don’t think so.” She gave him a perfunctory smile as her glance took in rugged good looks in a square face and dark wavy hair. Not exactly tousled, but certainly untamed.
The man frowned for a moment before his face cleared. “You remind me of my mother-in-law.”
“Really?” She suppressed a grin. Being compared to a mother-in-law was a novel kind of comment.
“Not really, no. Her hair’s short and straight, not long like yours, and her face is rounder.”
She couldn’t help but laugh. “So I’m nothing like her?”
“You’re much younger, of course, but your eyes are the same colour. Unusual.”
“Brown eyes are unusual?”
“Kind of coppery. I’m useless with colours, but that’s what she said hers were.”
“Oh, I see.”
It seemed an odd conversation to be having with a stranger in a supermarket, but her heartbeat quickened at the attractive twinkle in his dark eyes as he smiled.
He held out his hand. “Luke Sullivan. Pleased to meet you.”

Irish Intrigue
Charley Hunter returns unwillingly to Ireland to complete the filming of a TV drama series. She still hasn’t come to terms with the tragic loss of her husband there two years previously, and the last thing she expects is an instant attraction to an Irish veterinary surgeon.
Luke Sullivan’s life is full as he tries to balance caring for his two young children with his busy rural veterinary practice. After the break-up of his marriage, he vowed to leave women well alone, but now finds himself drawn to Charley.
While Charley struggles with the re-awakening of her emotions, Luke faces a series of unexplained crises at his clinic, as well as an impending custody battle with his ex-wife.
They grow closer as their initial interest in each other develops into mutual support and then into love. But how can an English actress and an Irish vet reconcile their different worlds? And will their relationship survive when Luke believes Charley has endangered his children’s lives – and then betrayed him?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

L Is For Lily

Jennifer talks about names...

How do you come up with names for your characters? On really lucky days, my characters pop into my head already named. But often, I put a placeholder in there and come up with final names as I get to know my characters better.

In my first book, A Heart of Little Faith, however, I used a baby name book. I wanted the names to symbolize character traits. The hero was strong, so I named him Gideon. Each name usually has multiple meanings, but I liked the “warrior” definition I found. The heroine had to be everything he wasn’t, though, in order to turn and soften him. So I named her Lily, which means pure (and yes, it’s also a flower). It was one more way of unveiling who the character is to the reader.


Monday, September 19, 2016

L is for Lucky

Ana muses about luck's role in writer's life.

Serendipity. We often write about it in our stories. The pouring-rain traffic jam that delays the heroine so she misses her train. Drenched and dejected, she slogs into a bar for some napkins to dry her face and meets the love of her life.

At a writer's conference I attended last Saturday, Faith Sullivan told the story of a National Book Club award-winner. He sent out his prized novel under an assumed name, and every publisher rejected it. "This proves," Ms. Sullivan said, "that acceptance is a crap shoot. It in no way reflects the quality of your story."

I've heard similar anecdotes before, and they are heartening. A book goes through stages, and when it's finished, It's time to send it out and let the wheel of luck spin.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

K is for Kyle

Debra 'doubled up' on a character's name.

My story An Unexpected Blessing features a little boy named Kyle. I didn't pick that name for any particular reason, but it came to me and I liked it, so I went with it.

When it came time to write Fourth of July at The Corral, I needed another boys' name for the heroine's son. I really didn't know what I wanted it to be, but I wanted to keep moving with the story, so I tossed Kyle in there as a 'place holder', fully intending to go back and change it when I came up with his 'real' name.

Wouldn't you know it? Turns out the little boy in that story really was a Kyle. The more I wrote, the more I didn't want to change it. I especially loved how it played off of the hero's (his father) name: Tyler. With the similar pattern in the spelling, it helped to solidify their connection.

I debated and debated with myself. How terrible would it be to have two characters in two different books with the same name? It bugged me for a long time. Ultimately, however, I stuck with Kyle for the Fourth of July book. I never would have done it with a hero or heroine, but in the end, I couldn't name that little boy anything else. He WAS Kyle.

I did once 'borrow' a character's last name in a WIP for a character in another book I was going to finish first. In that instance, I did go back and change the original name to something else.

Sometimes coming up with the right name is harder than others. I've also learned my lesson with secondary characters. Since I've used so many of them from my 'main' stories in spin-offs of their own, I've learned to think carefully about those names too. You never know when they might demand a story of their own!

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

K = Knowing Your People

Paula thinks about how she gets to know her characters.  

I’ve had quite a lot of reviewers say they feel like they ‘know’ my characters e.g. “so well written that I feel I know all the characters personally” and “you feel that you have actually met them”.

Comments like this are great because they show the reader has really engaged with the characters – and it goes without saying that this will only happen if we, as writers, have also engaged with our characters. Or rather, with our ‘people’, since according to Hemingway, “When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”

We probably all have different ways of getting to know our characters in order to portray them realistically. At one end of the spectrum are the authors who write a detailed biography of their characters before they start the story and sometimes find pictures of them all to pin up near their computers. At the other end of the spectrum are the authors like me, who start simply with a name, and maybe (but not always) an occupation.

I’ve seen character ‘bio sheets’ or profiles that suggest you list everything from the person’s shoe size to what they like for breakfast, and from their best/worst childhood experience to their favourite movies/books/singers, and their political or religious beliefs.

Fair enough, if this helps a writer to ‘know’ their characters, but it wouldn’t work for me. I couldn’t work from a pre-formed ‘creation’ of a character. I prefer to get to know my people as I write the first draft of the story (and even then I probably couldn’t answer all the questions on a character profile!). It’s rather like getting to know a person in ‘real’ life, and I find they gradually reveal more of themselves, their backgrounds, their personalities, and their hopes and fears. Quite often I blink in surprise when a character tells me something I didn’t know.

In my current ‘work in progress’, I knew the hero needed some ‘back story’ but when my brainstorming partner asked me about it, all I could say was, ‘I don’t know yet, I’m waiting for him to tell me.’ Well, it’s taken a while but eventually, almost 60K words into the story, he finally got around to telling me! Yes, I’ll have to go back now, and layer in some extra details earlier in the story, but to me, that works better than foisting a back story on him in advance. Better for him to tell me, than for me to tell him!

I’d be interested to know how much you need to know about your ‘people’ before you start writing their story.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

K Is For Kiss

Jennifer shows the first kiss..

My romance, Skin Deep, is about a makeup artist and the star of a TV show. Here is the scene with their first kiss.

Her eyes glowed with warmth and he could find no trace of disgust in their smoky depths. Her lips curved in a soft, sweet smile. He couldn’t imagine them ever curving around hurtful words.
She held out her hand. He looked at it, and back up at her face. Her gaze remained fixed on him. He reached for her hand in slow motion. His hand trembled at the first contact of skin on skin and his knuckles brushed against the back of her hand. He turned his hand and took her small one in his. His fingers caressed her delicate bones and silk smooth skin. She didn’t flinch. He looked at her face and saw the smile he adored. He relaxed. She led him over to the sofa and they sat down next to each other. She left her hand in his and he froze, afraid if he moved, she’d remember where her hand rested and move it. When she didn’t, he played with it, turned it over, looked at it, amazed she let him touch her.
Her voice interrupted his thoughts. “If you don’t want me doing your makeup, that’s fine, but don’t run away from me.” He squeezed her hand, unable to find the words to apologize. She rubbed his hand, and he exhaled.
“Oh, and one more thing.” She leaned over and kissed him. As their lips met, his entire body stiffened. He pressed her back against the sofa and supported his weight with his arms. One hand cradled the back of her head, the other slipped around her waist. Noses bumped, breath mingled and fingers intertwined as their kiss lengthened and deepened. Sofa springs bounced, sofa pillows cushioned and toes touched as they leaned into each other.

John’s senses shrieked into hyper-alert. Her soft mouth caressed his, her warm breath tickled his upper lip. Her silken hair flowed between his fingers. Behind his closed eye lids, sparks of bright color shot like fireworks. He felt like he was drowning; yet at the same time, he felt like he might be finally saved.

Monday, September 12, 2016

K is for Kudos

Ana celebrates--and gives thanks!

Last week I was surprised to final in two categories in the Pages from the Heart contest.
Stormy Hawkins finaled in the Unpublished Author Historical category.
Ammi Folkright, my current WIP, finaled in the Unpublished Author Suspense category.

I haven't had time to fully digest the first-round judges' comments. It's always better to read them and then walk away for a week or two.

I sure appreciate my crit partners, who helped me earn comments like this:

You are very good at getting the backstory out without info dumping.

Smooth writing. Very polished. Great descriptions and world-building. I can see it in my mind’s eye the whole time. The balance between showing and telling is terrific…it is a really hard thing to do, and it really sets a story on a higher level to do it well.

Your descriptions were well done. There was enough to "see" everything without slowing down the pace of the entry.

It's easy to tell the characters apart by their "voices."

There were critical comments a-plenty, but the nice ones made for a good balance. I won't need to withdraw and lick my wounds.

NEWS FLASH! I just heard (as in an hour ago) from the editor at Entangled who requested a full. She wants me to revise the second half and then she''ll make the final decision to accept or reject. I agreed to do it.