Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Working away

It's half-term and the children are at home. Unexpectedly the decorator showed up yesterday morning. We were expecting him at the start of LAST month but he got delayed and I sort of thought he would be delayed again.
So now my quiet house reverbates to the sound of radio 2, the wallpaper steamer and the children's disputes. The place is a tip andI have discovered the plate rack I thought lovely and old fashioned in the hallway was in fact put in by the former do-it-up-on-the-cheap owners and it is very lucky I never ever put anything heavy on it... Said plate rack now exists as firewood and the bits and pieces have been redistributed.
I suspect this is going to go on for several weeks....
When I first became very serious about writing, we were getting the upstairs redone. Having people in the house tends to make me concentrate.I can't go traisping around as I want to leave them to get on with their work.
Fortunately I finished the first go round of my sensual scene before they showed up. I shall have to work on this in the early morning hours before everyone else is up as for such things I must have total silence.
My writing is now going at more than a snails pace and I begin to see the light. It will get done and edited before the 14 of July. But if I put up one of those word meters I fear I will become like a rabbit in the headlights, too scared to write.

And the naughty duck lives. She woke us up at 3:30 in the morning, quaking her head off. At that time in the morning, I no longer care if the fox gets her or not. Hopefully she will soon decide that her eggs won't hatch and return to the fold as it were. I don't want to think about ducklings.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Library talk

The talk I gave at the Washington Town Centre Library, reaffirmed all the reasons I love libraries and thnk they should be supported.

It was a well managed talk complete with posters and books. The librarian had even arranged to have a few of the paperbacks on sale. And about ten percent of the people who attended purchased a copy. There were about thirty people there. A significant majority belonged to the book group and had already read my book. Everyone was pleasant and I basically talked for over an hour.

People were there because they wanted to hear about writing romance, Mills and Boon and my books. I geareed it towards both readers who wanted to know more about how books were written and writers. One of the writers from the RNA Northumberland came along and it was wonderful to see a friendly face.

Apparently I am now known to the librarian mafia and my name may get passed along.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Blogging away

One of the blogs I read regualrly on e-harlequin -- Isabel Swift has now moved over to blogger. This means that I don't have to keep guessing if a new post has been put up, because of the way e-harlequin archives things. Isabel is VP at Harlequin and in charge of new business. I find her posts thought provoking and informative as she tend to blog about new things in the company, things happening in the industry and wonderful new upcoming books.

Her latest post is no exception and is all about increasing one's blogging profile. There is something called Technorati that keeps track of blogs, and apparently it can help to have one's profile on there. It takes a few minutes to set up and to claim your blog.

All of which is very interesting but not getting my wip written. I know what is happening next, I know why it is happening and I know what will happen after. I just have to write the thing.

I also have a library talk to prepare. My contract as such came through today. I had thought I was speaking about Writing Histrical Fiction, instead my talk is entitled A Taste of Romance and I am speaking about writing Romance. Fine but just so long as I know BEFORE I give the talk...

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A smallish rant

I was reading Romancing The Blog (yes I know I should be writing but...) anyway, there was a nice piece about pirates and someone had posted that an un-named historical author said the only thing editors were interested in these days was lords and ladies. They would NEVER buy pirates. Huh?
Nope, not my editors. They have been buying Roman set historicals from me and someone else. And funnily enough all my mss thus far have had something to do with pirates. The working title of my last one was The Pirate's Bargained Bride.
They are looking for strong early 20th century but haven't found it yet, and they want more ancient civilisations. They are receiving very few mss set in these time periods and barely none that show the writer has done any sort of research beyond watching a film on tv.
Because HM&B have enough Regency authors doing drawing room, they want something that is that little bit different. I think it would be harder to to sell a striaght Lords and Ladies than it would be to sell something different.
And if my experience with Gladiator's Honour is anything to go by, readers are thus far knock on wood, responding to the time period.
When I read editors are not buying this or that, I know what it probably means is that the individual story was probably not strong enough for an editor to take a chance.
The basic key ingredient to sell a mss is to have a strong story that fits within the guidelines of that particular publisher. It is the dream of every editor to find an author talented enough to deliver.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Character v characterization

Or what are the damned questionaires for?

I am going to admit it. Put my hand up and say. I love character questionaires, I really mean to use them but somehow I never quite get around to filling them out properly.Don't get me wrong by this time in writing a book, I can probably answer most of the questions on the questionaires about my main characters. With a little thought.

This was why when reading Story, it was such a great pleasure to read the section on character v characterization. In his viewpoint, the spuerficialities don't matter a great deal, but the deep character -- what is this person really about deep down does. Yes, that was it. It suddenly all made perfect sense. There is a distinct difference between characterization (the colour of hair, eyes, clothes they wear) and the type of person they are. Simply know your heroine is a blonde with grey eyes and a penchant for long pink fingernails doesn't really tell you much about how she will react when faced with the biggest crisis of her life. You need to know more.

Now I know character questionaires (and Kate Walker's ones in the 12 point guide to Romance are brilliant) are means to an end. They are a way to discover the ins and outs of your character so you can uncover the deep character. What will your character do when faced with an emergency? Is she going to be the one holding the victim's hand? Calling the emergencies services? Organising the rescue? Or doing the rescuing? Or needing to be rescued herself? Or would she walk on by? Would your character rush into a burning building to save a kitten? How are they going to react under stress? And how are you going to force them to react? What ultimately is the sort of person you are dealing with?

But often times, when I am writing, the first thing that comes to me is the sort of person I am dealing with. It is one of the reasons I like building up from ennegrams. I like to know about the person deep down inside first. And then deciding what I need to know about the surface stuff.

But no matter how anyone does it, ultimately there comes a point when you have to know the characters so well, you could fill out on those character sheets in under five minutes flat..if you only took the time.

And next time I will, it will make filling out the art sheet so much easier.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Form, not formula

Because my editor went on a course with Robert McKee, I ordered his book. As I assume she will have assimulated his words, I wanted to see where her keen editorial eye would be going. For a variety ofreasons I like to get things straight from the horse's mouth.
Robert McKee's Story -- Substance, structure and the principles of screenwriting (ISBN 0413715604) so far has not disappointed. It has confirmed a number of strongly held views, so I suspect that I am going to be quoting from this for while.
He believes in form, not formula. To quote: Anxious inexperienced writers obey rules; rebellious unschooled writers break rules; an artist masters the form. He believes in teaching the craft of writing from the inside out( looking at desire, antagonism, turning points, spine, prgression, crisis and climax) as it was done in the first half of the 20th century. The current vogue is to teach from the outside in (ie looking at language, codes and text). It is one reason he postulates there has been a deep decline in the ability to tell and craft a story. He does not discount talent, rather he believes that talent can be and should be honed and sharpened. In short the forms of creative writing can be taught, but the mastery of the forms is down to an individual's talent.
He also believes in authenticity something that comes when a writer writes with authority. A story well told.
Anyway, I plan to spend some time digesting the tome. It looks excellent.
There again, I am always striving to hone my craft skills.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

3rd Roman

Just to say my third Roman has been accepted and will be appearing in UK paperback in April 07.
A title will be forthcoming.

Now all I have to do is finish this Roman...

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Rules of Romance

Over the last week, a course was held at Castle Park about writing for MIlls and Boon. The Times has published an article on it.
Now if the article is accurate, I am so very glad I was not there. Why? Because I hate rules.
With romance writing, there are a few very basic rules.
1. The growth of emotional relationship between the two protagonists must be at the heart of the story. It is the glue that holds the whole story together.
2. With M&B a Happy Ending is always guaranteed. The trick is to make the reader fear that the Happy Ending will not come about until the very last second. You could argue the same is true with a murder mystery, the trick there is to make the reader think the murderer might actually get away with it until the detective figures the whole thing out.
3. To my mind, heroes should always be heroes. They need to have a larger than life qualitiy about them. The hero for each line of M&B will display slightly different aspects of an alpha hero.Just as there are many different types of leadership, there are many different types of heroes. I have my own idea of a hero and heroic qualities. By incorporating those, I can write from the heart in a much better way than I could if I tried to follow someone else's prescription. So to help create your hero, decide the characteristics you like best in a leader cum hero.

But beyond that, I don't agree that Rachel must always be dark. I know a number of blonde Rachels. Or that Sophie is a silly name for heroine. Huh? That is way too prescriptive.

For every unwritten rule, there will be a story that breaks it. It all depends on the execution and the writer's talent.

No Scottish heroes? Uh, Terri Brisbin writes them as do a number of other historical writers. Saxon warriors are Germanic. Vikings are Scando Normans are French. The list goes on. It is the personality that counts.

No professional sports stars? What do you call a gladiator? Also I believe there was a very well recieved Presents mini series about Footballers wives.

The point is that what ever The Powers That Be buy it goes beyond the superficial and goes straight to how strong is this book? A really strong book whose characters linger in the mind and whose romance you totally believe can break a number of the unwritten rules because really the only rules are that the story be told within the very vague guidelines set down by each line
Writing a strong story where the romance is the over arching plot will get you far further down the road to publication than many things.

End of rant. Back to writing the wip and not thinking about the fact that my editor has my revisions and will be getting back to me tomorrow. Do I have nails left?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Cataromance Romance for Gladiator's Honour

Julie Bunello of Cataromance has reviewed Gladiator's Honour. Its rating is 4 1/2 stars.
My favourite bit of the review was:
The Gladiator's Honour is an engrossing tale of secret passions, forbidden desires and family secrets which will captivate readers everywhere! Ms. Styles is an exciting new writer of historical romance who has written an extremely well researched historical novel teeming with fascinating characters which linger in the mind long after the last page is turned, fiery passion, nail-biting action sequences and breath taking storytelling prowess.
Exciting, enthralling and unforgettable, The Gladiator's Honour is a debut which will dazzle and delight from the first page till the very last.

It is the sort of review that puts a smile on your face for a whole day and beyond.
Cataromance is a lovely site and dedicated to Catagory Romance.

In other news: I finished my revisions and emailed them off to my editor. Now the rollercoaster begins.
Also on Wednesday I am doing an interview with BBC Radio Newcastle. It is because I am giving a talk on Writing Historical Ficiton at the Washington Town Centre Library on 25 May as part of the Adult Learning Week events. All very exciting.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Another Review for Gladiator's Honour

Lori from Once Upon A Romance has reviewed Glaidaotr's Honour and has given it a 4.0 rating. She said that it was a truly passionate love story -- passion in the emotional sense. You can read the full review here.

I was very pleased that she liked the romance.

Yesterday I went down to Richmond and spoke with my editor and my senior editor. It was absolutely marvellous to finally see the offices of M&B. They are situated on Paradise Road -- a happy coincidence. The offices look like a publisher's office should -- full of piles and piles of books. In one place there were posters of long ago covers and ED had several Harlequin manequins in her office.

It was lovely to chat with my editors and the time passed so swiftly. The upshot is that they are very happy with my work and the way my writing is progressing. It was a Day All About Me. My head is still buziing with all the ideas but there is going to be a lot of hard work ahead.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The social side

One of the nicer partsof being a writer I have discovered is meeting like minded people. A very good way to do that is to join the RNA or Romantic Novelists Association.
Up here in Northumberland, we have a very reasonably active chapter and the infomation is always inspiring.One writer said that the words flowed out of her after the last meeting. Anyway, most of the RNA Northumberland showed up today. We were able to celebrate my book as well as Jan Minshull's first book -- Coast to Coast. Her book has not arrived from the publishers, but it involves the Coast to Coast walk and I am really looking forward to reading it. Janet MacLeod Trotter's next book is being launched in June and Benita Brown's in September. A good time had by all.
Tomorrow I am down in London visitng my editors -- a perk of the job and something I have been longing to do for awhile. I shall finally get to see the hallowed ground of the M&B office as well as lunching with two editors whose advice I really respect.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

A day out and the bloody hand

Yesterdya was a glorious spring day, the sort of spring day that you glad to be in England and alive. As my dh had the day off, we headed off to West Cumbria and Muncaster Castle to see the Sino-Himalyan flowers in bloom.
Now the Good gardens Guide which is usually reliable utterly fails in this instance. This garden with its superb collection of Rhodedendron, magnolia etc as wel its unbelieveable location should be classed as a two star top garden. It does not even rate one star. Why? This garden is clearly in a class by itself and deserves to be ranked along side the other great gardens of Britain. It has much to offer.

In the words of John Ruskin, it is the gateway to Paradise. With nary a cloud in the sky, I could well believe the description. With a limited amount of time, we could only explore for about two hours and barely scratched the surface of this garden. In walking in the Sino-Himilayan garden, we chanced upon a Bluebell Haven. This was more than a wood, it was bluebells as far as the eye could see in glorious vivid blue, with the fragance filling my nostrils and mouth. We must have walked for ten minutes before we were through the wood and caught a glimpse of the Irish sea.

The newly opened plant centre is a treasure trove of plants and we were able to discover several magnolia that have been on our wish list for ages. Namely -- Magnolia Grandiflora 'Exmouth' and Magnolia x loebnerri 'Merill 'which has the most fantastic scent. Now we shall have to wait several years for the flowers to appear. But we have the plants and the prices were reasonable. For once it was a plant centre that accurately reflected the plants in the garden, rather than having plants that you could pick up at any garden centre. We had to limit ourselves to four magnolias. Both my dh and I have become magnolia enthusiasts. Their blooms are fantastic and they are not difficult to grow If you have a long time period in mind.

On the gate that leads into The Terrace, the crest of arms sports a Bloody Hand. Now there are various folktales on why a bloody hand appears -- generally to do with bad behaviour of some lord -- whipping a child to death. Some say the hand shrinks each generation until the debt is fully repaid. However, the truth is that it is a sign of a Baronet and goes back to when James I was trying to raise money for the Ulster Plantation. The Red Hand of Ulster comes from the O'Niells -- an O'Niell cut off his hand and threw it ashore to ensure he won and was able to claim Ulster, instead of a boat that was looking to land before his.

We did not have time to look in the castle, but shall go back again. There is a green glass bowl that I want to see -- The Luck of Muncaster Castle which has all sorts of legends attached to it (the book my dh gave me for Christmas about the Lore and Legends of England has an entry) as well as lots of other interesting features. It is supposed to be haunted.

However all this will probably have to wait until the bluebells are in bloom again as it is a long haul from Northumberland. BUT if anyoneh appens to be in the Lake District, it is well worth a visit.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Romance Junkies reviews Gladiator's Honour

I have a huge grin on my face this morning. The review for Gladiator's Honour has gone live on Romance Junkies. GH received a 4.5 Blue Ribbon rating and reviewer Dorine Linnen said The rarity of finding a romance set during this time period is just part of the joy of reading THE GLADIATOR’S HONOUR. Michelle Styles fills this book with just the right amount of historical flavor, without overwhelming with too much detail. Feel the rush of the crowds in the marketplace. Experience the tension of the gladiators, while they train for that ultimate day when they may meet death. All while following a love affair between two people, that societywill never accept as a couple. Just as the gladiators’ games build to a climatic end, so does the relationship between Valens and Julia. It’s a breathtaking, satisfyin gending that brought tears to my eyes. THE GLADIATOR’S HONOUR is a lush realm for historical lovers to explore, with the right amount of emotional impact to melt your heart.

I have a lot of time and respect for Dorine as I know she really loves her historicals. She is also one of the main reviewers for RJ and as such is very experienced.

If you haven't visited lately, do so and you will find a treasure trove of information about the Romance genre as well some very friendly people.

Romance Junkies is about to launch its third annual contest. Although it is a bit nerve-wracking, I do know a number of people who have sold after they have entered the contest -- including myself and Kate Allan for The Lady Soldier. It is a worthwhile exercise.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Handselling in Tescos!

As you can see I have been busy with my camera. I went back to WH Smiths and took a picture and then tried Tescos. There I was able to rearrange things so that I was next Jenna Bayley-Burke and Kate Hardy.

After I did this and my rather boring shopping, I went to the check out and had a lively chat with the woman there. I explained about Gladiadtor's Honour and she asked if I wouldn't mind signniig a copy for her and leaving at Customer Services where she'd pick it up later. She assured me it would be alll right as this is what they did when that Bobby Robson, ex-manager of Newcastle United came in for some of the male staff. And she confided, M&Bs were her favourite. It is her birthday next week and so she wanted to treat herself. I duly did as requested. I must have been beaming from ear to ear. The Customer Serice lady was absolutely wonderful about it.

Another reason why I like to shop at Tescos.