Friday, February 29, 2008

Switching Points of Views v Headhopping

One of the so-called rules that I often hear about from unpublished writers is the sin of head hopping. Often they do not understand what head hopping is, and apply it to any switch in point of view during a scene.
True head hopping is jumping from character to character without telling the reader whose head you are in, and without regard to the build up of reader identification with the character. Remember that the reader is always searching for a character/hero to identify with. They want that connection.

Let me say that truly powerful story tellers can and do switch points of views in the middle of scenes. Some like Larry McMurtry or Peter Ackeroyd or Terry Pratchett switich quite often. Nora Roberts is another author who springs to mind. But they are all superlative story tellers. Ultimately, the story telling talent will carry the reader along.

Right, why then do people go about staying in a specific point of view? Why is there all this fuss?
The reason is reader identification with the character, in other words -- connecting with the reader.
If the reader is going to be inside a character's head, the reader wants to know which head she is in. It is disconcerting for the reader to be pulled out of the story because she thought she was in the heroine's head and it turns out that the writer has dipped into the housekeeper's head for a moment.
Or another way to look at it is that the reader is always seeing a scene through a filter, whether it is the filter of a character or even the filter of the ominscient narrator. Without that filter, the reader has no idea how to interpret the scene. If filters are changed awkwardly, or the reader thinks she is seeing through a specific filter and finds out differently, the reader may get pulled out of the scene.

Thus it is the awkwardness of the shifts without sufficent tension/page turning quality that causes headhopping. If there is sufficient page turning quality, the vast majority of readers will forgive an awkward point of view shift. It is really ALL IN THE EXECUTION rather than in some hard and fast rule that says each chapter must be only shown from one character's point of view.

One way of thinking about it is that each time you shift POV, you are starting a new scene, so that scene needs to be anchored. And as scenes need to be in general more than one paragraph long, once you go into a character's head expect to stay there for awhile. It is not a one sentence deal.
I used to show the shifts in point of view as scenes breaks, but my editors did away with the breaks. However, I still think of the shifts between hero and heroine as changes in scenes. It helps to keep me focused. Do I really need to a scene change or can I show the other character's thoughts through some telling detail?
Shifting from one deep point of view to another can be disconcerting, so if you are going to shift, shift at a natural break. Think camera shots. Sometimes I will shift point of views after a bit of dialogue which does not have speech attributes.
I find by using shifts in POV, it means that I do not have to do sequels or reprises of scenes as sometimes both reactions of the characters are important. A reprise can decrease tension far more quickly than a well-timed, well executed shift in point of view. It is all about maintaining tension.
Switching Point of View is something that comes with practice. In order to be able to switch, you first have to be hold a Point of view. Some people find it useful to write in different colours for different points of view -- say pink for the heroine and blue for the hero. I find it easier simply to think -- whose Point of View am I in? Through whose eyes am I seeing the scene? And how does the reader know whose head? What words would that character use that are unique to that character? And when/why do I need to shift Point of View?

So hopefully now, the rationale behind switching Point of View becomes clear.
There is NO hard and fast rule. The only rule is the story. If the story flows and the tension is high, you can shift as the story dictates. If the tension is low, not even slavish devotion to one point of view will save it.
Techniques are there to be mastered, rather than followed blindly.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Writing Tides

My mother sent me a book written by the husband of a college friend, Kent Ira Groff. Writing Tides is not a how to book, but rather a book about finding inspiration and using writing to help find grace and growth. It probably has closer kinship with books like Bird by Bird or Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit.

The book is aimed at anyone who writes -- from professional novelist to someone who simply scribbles a card to a friend. And it aims to help the writer connect more with his/her spirituality and therefore creativity.

Anyway, intrigued, I started to read and there is some interesting insights.

For example, in chapter 4, he discusses fear, depression and writer's block. Depression can be seen as anger turned inwards. He is careful to point out that depression is very different from the Dark Night of the Soul and the difference is in the outcome. The ability to write can sometimes help control depression.
The quote from St Augustine is worth remembering -- Hope has two beautiful daughters, anger and courage, anger at the way things are, and courage to change them.
He also discusses writing into a block, accepting it, and taking a pause in writing. Hard work v surprises. The need to replenish and that reading can also mean learning to read people and situations -- the adaptation of the Lectio Divina to any text and the need to reflect on passages. He is very honest about his own struggles with writing and details exercises that have helped him. And I haveno doubt that the exercises in the book can give people greater insight into their own soul and into their writing.

He also writes of the void of the unknowing becoming the womb for a new creation and how novelists have to empty their own personality in order to enter the character they are writing about -- an interesting way of thinking about things.
There are things to enjoy about this book (not the lest his take on multiple intelilgence and spiritual punctuation), and it is a timely reminder to me that not everyone writes for publication. Most people write for the sheer pleasure of connecting with words, or finding insight. And that is something worth remembering.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Earthquakes and sleeping.

I slept through an earthquake last night. Or rather an earthquake hit England several hundred miles to the south of here and it may or may not have reached as far north.
I did wake at 1 am, but thought nothing of it. I couldn't understand why I was suddenly so wide awake, but soon settled back again. The dogs were aggitated this morning when I got up. It wasn't until I checked the news that I discovered what had happened.
Having grown up in California, I am used to sleeping through earthquakes. I can remember my brother and I longing for a real earthquake without truly realising the consequences. Things seem exciting when you are little. And my brother used to tease me that there had been one. This had consequences in 1989 when I refused to believe his phone call about the SF Bay Area quake, until it was confirmed by listening to the BBC...
Large scale earthquakes are anything but exciting. thankfully this one was only 5.2 -- so enough to shock, and cause minor damage, but not enough to disrupt.
There is theory that it is better to have small quakes over a period of time, then one violent tremour. So in that context, the quake is good, it has relieved some of the tension.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Depression and relics

The news today is full of articles on the fact that prozac may be no better than a placebo for many people.
This does not mean that they do not work for certain severe cases, but that in others, it is more the power of suggestion. The researchers combed through both published and unpublished reports of clinical trials. And it would appear that on a significant number of occassions when the depression was not severe, it was more the act of taking something rather than the actual thing taken.
As I was reading in Ernle Bradford's The Shield & The Sword: when you ask people to do irrationally brave things, sometimes you need to give them some irrational to believe in. This was one of the explanations for the use of relics before battle. Sometimes, the belief gives you confidence.
The problem with using medicine as a relic is that it can cause very real side effects, many more than carrying a rabbit's foot about. Or creating certain rituals. It is a matter of making the mind feel that it can cope.
Here are few ideas for coping mechanisms:
1. Walking. Both Dickens and Kipling (among others) used to walk for miles. The scenes they saw provided inspiration. Kipling suffered greatly from night terrors. Had he not suffered, he probably would never have ended up in the native quarter.
2 Gardening -- Various writers over the years have found solace in the garden. Deadheading roses can be theraputic.
3. sailing -- a number of writers (Daphane du maurier springs to mind) have found solace while sailing.
4. Exercise
5 yoga
6. going to church
7. reading romance or other feel good uplifting/escapist reads which allow the reader to release pent up tension.
I am sure other people can come up with coping mechanisms or rituals.
The main thing is recognise that a pill is not always the end, and sometimes, it is simple belief that can get you through the day. Relics and rituals can exert powerful influences are not yet fully understood. And they may be necessary for the human pysche.
I know my coping rituals for when I am waiting to hear back from my editor are importnat. The Crows of Doubt can exert a very powerful and many times an irrational force. It is my rituals, my talismans, my beliefs that see me through...

Monday, February 25, 2008

Voice and reading

On the M&B Editors loop, a writer who is just starting out on the journey towards publication (or at least on the early part of the path) said that she did not read romance very much anymore because she was worried about diluting her voice.

The simple answer is reading does not dilute your voice. Your voice is you and is made up of ALL your life experience. It is how you tell a story and those things that are important to you.
There are some writers who never readers, but they are the limited exception rather than the rule. Most writers read and read alot.
I write historical romance because I love the genre. I came to it through my reading. And I dare say that somebody could find echoes of authors in my writing, if they wanted to go fossicking backwards. No writer is an island. But there is also something uniquely me. I simply can not colour within the lines and I can't write like anyone else but me.
Twyla Tharp goes on at some length about this in her book, The Creative Habit. Basically, there are no new ideas under the sun, but it is how those ideas are put together and become an individual's.
Many unformed/inexperienced writers do play around with different styles as they seek to discover their voices. Teenaged writers, mainly because their life experience is limited, are apt to do this. But this is fine as it is good to experiment and to discover what works for your own unique voice and what doesn't. This is why also one of the best things a young writer can do for his or her voice is to live, and to experience the whole range of human emotion. Until you are certain about your own voice, you should not be submitting things for publication. Some people, for a number of reasons, have their voices mature earlier than others. Some voice mature later. Other voices move. The stories people tell in their twenties are not necessarily the same stories they will tell in their fifties.

As a writer, you have to know what makes the story uniquely yours. Why do you want to tell this story? If you had to throw everything about a story, what would be the ONE thing you would keep? What one theme? In other words, what is the story about? What makes it yours?
What makes the characters yours and not some character off the shelf? Why is that hero yours and not someone else's? Hint: it wll come down to inner character/true character, the sorts of things that are only revealed when pressure is applied and choices made rather than physical characteristics.
Knowing what makes a story yours means you can start working with your voice.
Anyway, reading is important for a developing writer. Discovering what works and what doesn't work for your voice. It is possible to admire other writers, while knowing what they do with their voice is something you can never do with yours. Reading can also help give you distance from your own work. And analysing why something works or does not work in someone else's work can help make you more objective in your work. To improve your work, you must be able to examine it and still have it keep its place in your affections.
It is always about trying to make the best possible read for that unique subset of readers -- yours. And they are reading you, because of your voice, not because you are a pale imitation of someone else.

So never be frightened to read. And when you come to something that you love, take the time to anlyse why it speaks to you as a person and as a writer. it is some thing you can use and make your own.Or is it just something, you can admire.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

On defining Romance

There was an excellent post on Romancing the Blog about the perceived problems with Romance as a genre title. Actually I do not have a problem with it. It is highly sucessful genre and one of the classic genres of the novel. Why mess with success? I love Romance. I love writing it and reading it.
Anyway I gave my definition of a Romance as a story where the growth of the emotional relationship between the two central protagonists forms the spine/core. I should have added AND there is an emotionally satisfying resolution at the end. But I didn't and that was a mistake on my part. Basically I know that the Romance genre operates on the archplot/classic design. Therefore it has a closed ending and must release all emotional tension built in the story by resolving the major plot. (It was one of the quarrels I had with Raintree Inferno -- it does not end until the third book and so major threads are left hanging.)
Another poster Virginia pointed out that there was another attempt at defining Romance:
This definition leaves a lot more “fudge room” (speaking about my definition) than the one Pamela Regis used in A Natural History of the Romance Novel (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007). She defines the genre by eight necessary elements, one of which is that the book end with betrothal (or, at a stretch, the marriage) of the two protagonists. The chapter on “The Definition Expanded” requires eight “essential” elements:
Society Defined
The Meeting
The Barrier
The Attraction
The Declaration
Point of Ritual Death
The Recognition
The Betrothal.

Um... Pamela Regis has definitely been supping at the Christopher Vogler/Joseph Campbell table. She has basically taken the Hero's journey and given them slightly different labels. The hero's journey is
1. Ordinary World
2. Call to Adventure
3 Refusal of the Call
4 Meeting with the Mentor
5 Crossing the first threshold
6 Tests Allies Enemies
7 Approach to the Innermost cave
8 Ordeal
9 Reward
10 the Road Back
11 resurrection
12 Return with the Exlir
(p 14 Christopher Vogler The Writer's Journey)

I leave you to compare and contrast the differences.

Vogler's basic theory is that ALL good stories can be made to fit the Journey. It is a diadatic approach. You can make an arguement for it, but I think Regis's labels are far too narrow and miss the essence of the Romance's novel.
It is possible to start a romance novel with the two main protagonists already married/ or to have them married quite early on. The marriage of Convienance is a very popular theme. The Secret Baby theme or the non final divorce theme have also prove popular over the years.
Sold and Seduced for example starts with a forced marriage. It does not end in a betrothal. They are already married. It ends with a meeting of true minds and is hopefully emotionally satisfying. It is a Happily Ever After after all.
Basically, one has to wonder how many Romance novels Ms Regis read before she started doing her thesis.
I stand by my definition.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Ashes to Ashes and its quality

The third episode aired last night, and thus far Philip Glenister continues to steal the show. And it continues to be some of the best television I have seen for a long time. That I suspect is down to the quality of the writing and the ability of the actors to bring those characters and situations to life.

What I like about the show is that they are developing the characters, giving them layers. For example, the neanderthal Ray showed he had a heart last night when he dealt with a rape victim. And then helped further the cause of justice. It is the little touches, the unexpected turnabouts in character that help make it. Quietly done and more important subtly foreshadowed, so that when it happens, it is utterly believeable. It did not take up a huge amount of screen time, but that little subplot really helped to make the episode for me. It was a masterclass in how this sort of turnabout can be achieved.

What I also loved about last night's show was the upping of the chemistry between the two leads, but Gene refused to do anything about it. When their lips were very close as she argued with him and he resolutely turned away. Absolutely lovely. He retains his integrity and his code. he also cares about the people under him. There are reasons why I think women are attracted to the character.

The proofs have arrived for A Question of Impropriety so I am up to my neck in those. It is a matter of reading through and checking for the flow. In many ways, QI was a very difficult ms to write and I just want it to be an excellent read.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The first Baroness Von Trapp

I will confess: The Sound of Music is high on my list of favourite films. When we drove around New England in 1999 and New Hampshire was basically closed, it was a real treat to stay at the Von Trapp Lodge. We were even shown our room by Maria Von Trapp (one of the original family singers, rather than the nun). She had been greeting guests and took pity on us.
Over the years, I had vaguely wondered about the Captian's first wife. Who was she? How did she die?
Then when I was reading The Industrial Revolutionaries, I found my answer.
Agathe Von Trapp was the daughter of John Whitehead who was the son of Robert Whitehead, one of the main inventors of the torpedo. Robert Whitehead (born 1823 Bolton Lancastershire) was English but worked mainly abroad as a marine engineer. He went into engineering because of his uncle William Swift.
Agathe Whitehead met Georg Ritter Von Trapp in 1908 when he attended a launch of one of the early U boats. They fell in love and married. Then in 1922, at the age of 32, Agathe died of diptheria, leaving five young children to be cared for. Eventually he employed Maria Augusta Kutschera, a nun as a governess who taught the children to sing. After they lost the family fortune in the bank crashes of 1932, they sang their way out of trouble.
The rest they say is history.
Anyway, I thought it interesting...
UPDATE: I had a look at the Family chronology and see that there were seven children. I am not sure where Gavin Weightman got five from.
From the Von Trapp Family Chronology:
1927 Georg and Maria wed on November 26th; Maria becomes step-mother of Rupert, Werner, Johanna, Agathe, Maria, Martina and Hedwig

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Good,The Bad and the Unread.

Late last year, the ever so lovely Sybil asked me if I wouldn't mind doing a column for The Good, The Bad, and The Unread on the happenings at Harlequin. Basically, there is ALWAYS something happening, and sometimes because there is SO much, other things get forgotten. And she wanted to highlight the many interesting things that are going on. Anyway, I duly agreed.
At first, it was going to be weekly column, but it became clear that with my schedule and various other things, it was probably better as a monthly column. Sybil also decided to do a relaunch of the site, so the column launch was put on hold after I had done 3 columns.
The first column is now up. And the other two will quickly follow, then we subside into one per month. The column is primarily focused at the reader, rather than the aspiring writer and what is happening on that level...It is an evolving animal.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Moonshadows and vixens

Last evening, my dh, our youngest and I went for a walk. Because a mist hung in the air, when we started, the light was golden. Then as we tramped up the hill, it became a mixture of moonlight and the reddy glow of the sun, giving a flat painterly quality. Three buzzards played on the wind.
The graveyard of the Old Church appeared hung in strange shadows and our youngest declined to go in.
Later, in the last rays of the sun, a woodcock flew over the road. At first I thought it was a bat, but my dh pointed that no other bird in Britain flies in quite the same way. It was practicing its territorial flight.
We continued on when a strange half human half animal cry rent the silence, echoing across fields. At my startled look, my dh explained it was a vixen calling for her mate and establishing her territory. Both my youngest and I were quite startled. It is quite a keening, mournful sound, not at all like a dog's bark. A cry. Definitely female though. And something that sent a shiver down my back. When the vixen sounded again, I realised that it was also animal and not human, but with the mist showing shifting shapes, I was pleased that my dh knew the exact species. This can be the trouble with having a vivid imagination.
Then as we reached Chesterwood, a golden plover sounded. The call was far more regular. The moonshadows that had started as mere glimmers had become distinct. The stars shone in the black sky as the mist lifted. The walk held a certain timelessness to it.
All of this shows that despite the freezing fog and frozen ground, the animals are stirring and spring can not be far behind.

Monday, February 18, 2008

When your cp makes you cry

I am very lucky. Donna Alward is my critque partner and she is a rising star for Harlequin Mills and Boon Romance. It means that I get to see her work at a very early stage. Then I get to read her work when the book comes out. I get to see how she takes the rough ideas and turns them into a stunning book.

The Soldier's Homecoming is a meltworthy sweet romance. I had tears streaming down my face in three places. It is a secret baby story, but it does make sense. Jonas and Shannyn had a whirlwind romance when he was doing basic training. he left. She discovered that she was pregnant and never bother to tell him. It happens. And in some ways it reminds me of An Officer and A Gentleman with the women left behind after flight school. Six years later, he returns and they are both forced to confront their own hearts. Jonas is no longer the eager young recruit, but a hardened soldier, wounded in battle and struggling to make sense of his life. Shannyn is not the young naive secretary, but a compentent single mother who has carved a life for herself and her child.
The setting is Canadian, and I think it demonstrates how right Donna was to focus on setting her books there.
I really enjoyed it and I think Donna's skills are truly growing with each book.
It is a March Release for both Harlequin and Mills & Boon Romance.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Phyllis A Whitney -- an appreciation

I saw in The telegraph that Phyllis A Whitney died on 8 February 2008. You can read the NY Times obit here. She was 104 and a great writer. At one time she was called the Queen of American Gothics, and was considered to rank up there with Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt. I know that as a teenager I devoured her books. Because she also wrote mystery stories for children, she was a crossover author author for me. Someone that I read as a child and then later. A bit like Elizabeth Goudge.

She also wrote several books on writing that I used take out adnauseum from the library. She made me believe that I could write. She also gave the wonderful advice about carrying a notebook and jotting ideas down. I could never quite manage her system, but it certainly gave me hope. She was also admanat that poeple ought to live and to travel. Ms Whitney travel extensively and used her travels in her writing. She called her trips -- book hunting expeditions.

So in short she was an early writing hero
Once a librarian at my local library had written to a number of different authors, including Ms Whitney asking for reading reccomendation. Phyllis Whitney reccomended Barbara Micheals and Elizabeth Peters. I can read the librarian's pencil -- they are the same person. At the time, I was busy reading Barbara Micheals gothics and so happily discovered her writing as Elizabeth Peters, just at the time Amelia Peabody first appeared in print. And then because Rosemunde Pilcher was shelved near Elizabeth Peters, I discovered her as well -- this was in the late 1970s.

So I wanted to give my heart felt thanks to Phyllis A Whitney -- for the many hours of pleasurable reading and for all the knowledge of craft that her books imparted. She was a woman who believed in the value of persistence, and of honing your craft. And of paying it forward, of imparting her knowledge in the hopes that it might help someone else. I know she helped me.

Friday, February 15, 2008

New Blurbs

My editor's very lovely new assistant has just sent me the blurbs for An Impulsive Debutante and A Question of Impropriety.
Blurb writing is an art form and I am very pleased with both blurbs.

An Impulsive Debutante
Carlotta Charlton can’t wait for her first season – until her impulsive behaviour lands her right in the lap of notorious rake Tristan, Lord Thorngrafton!

Tristan is cynically convinced that she’s a fortune-hunter. But he can’t keep away from her. Several heated kisses lead to scandal and, one outraged mama later, they’re on their way to Gretna Green.

Catching his breath on the carriage ride to the border, Tristan decides it’s time that Lottie learns her lesson. If she wants to play with fire, he’ll notch up his seduction and set her ablaze!

An Impulsive Debutante comes out in September 08 and is Lottie Charlton's story. Some of you may remember Lottie from A Christmas Wedding Wager.

A Question of Impropriety
Diana Clare has had enough of London – the balls, the rakes you can never trust… Now, having returned home in disgrace, she is trying to forget what drove her from the ton.

But rake and gambler Brett Farnham, Earl of Coltonby, seems intent on making Diana remember exactly what it was like to be whirled around the ballroom and seduced by the glint in your partner’s eye...

But Brett has ‘mistress’ rather than ‘marriage’ in mind, and Diana is not sure her reputation can stand up to another scandal…

A Question of Impropriety comes out in November 08 in the UK and is the first part of a Regency duo. The second part is sitting (hopefully patiently) on my editor's desk awaiting her thoughts.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Physical beats

What are physical beats? This was a cry from my cp's heart when I kept returning her chapters with the notation. So I expect that an explanation is needed.

beat are the little bits of action that anchors the story and breathes life into a character. They allow the reader to picture character and what they are doing, so that the scene is not floating in space, or between two talking heads.
The building up of BEATS creates a scene, and makes the story flow. They allow action/reaction. Beats give clue to what is happening under the surface. A good scene is always about more than the spoken word. It is about what is happening behind the mask. Beats reveal character and depth. This is why beats MUST come from the character.

In a movie casting a different actor in a part will cause a scene to be played differently. Both Richard Armitage and Philip Glenister play self made men in Elizabeth Gaskell costume dramas, but their mannerisms are different. And the same is true in writing a novel, the character determines the mannerisms. And the mannerisms provide clues into the characters' inner world. Watching movies, particularly old movies, or movies where the leads have been stage actors (ie Dame Judi Dench or Maggie Smith) is a good way of seeing how physical beats work. Those little gestures that show so much.

You do not want to fill in all the blanks about the actions, rather to give hints and clues. You want to use active words and verbs, rather than passive ones. Less tends to more, and if beats come easy, you do have to be careful not to overuse them, because you can break the flow of the dialogue. Beats can be used in place of speech attribution.

So from Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife -- 'Surrender? Would my father surrender? Never.' She withdrew her father's sword and held it over her head. 'We fight.'
The beat is She withdrew her father's sword and held it over her head. the reader can then imagine in her own head how Sela would have said the words.

Or 'I had not placed you as killer of women.' She stretched her neck higher, away from the sharp blacde and gave a strangled laugh. 'An indiscrimate lover of women, perhaps, but never a killer.'
'Some might say your attire shows a certain contempt for your status, for your sex.' The blade relaxed slightly. 'Are you now going to plead special priviledges because you are a woman? The world operates by different rules, Sela.'

Often when a scene feels flat, it is not the dialogue, but the beats that are a fault. Changing the beats can change the entire tone of the scene. I know with An Impulsive Debutante, I had to change words used to describe the hero's action from seemingly cold to warmer tone. I definitely did not want to be in his POV either at the time. So Tristan’s face had closed down. His eyes held a distinct chill and his jaw clenched. Became :His face had paled and his Adam’s apple worked up and down several times. He started to say something, but stopped. Suddenly he appeared to regain control. He gave her an indulgent smile, like she was someone to be humoured.

Physical beats come naturally to some people, but over time, and a number of manuscripts, writers can find themselves reaching for the same crutches. This is where books on Body Language such as Peoplewatching by Desmond Morris can prove useful. What do certain gestures show? What do most people think of when someone leans forward and their eyes widen, for example. Hunched shoulders gives a different impression than throwing a character's arms wide.

But what ever action/reaction physical beat the writer uses, it must come from the heart of the character.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Show and tell

One of the hardest things for a new writer to learn is when to show and when to tell.

Most of the time, you want to show things happening in real time as this makes the reader feel like they are part of the action. However, there are sometimes, when you do have to have narrative summary, simply to move the pace of the story. In other words, the reader needs to know certain things, but they are not that important and do not have to be shown in real time.

Now when you are writing your first draft, it is perfectly okay to tell. For example, you might say she felt unhappy. Later you go back and revise sentence, mainly because you want the reader to be able to assign the emotion.
So perhpas She felt unhappy could Even the weather seemed to echo her mood, going from the brilliant sunshine to this afternoon's dull and dank mist. It was as if all the brightness and light had been sucked from the earth, leaving only the greyness behind.
Or The anticipation at the morning's post faded as she sifted through the unasked for catalogues, magazines from the previous occupant and brown enveloped bills. Nothing. Not even one solitary card on her birthday.

Basically you are trying to Resist the Urge to Explain. RUE. The reader should be able to get the emotion from the text.
Actually if I added She felt unhappy at the end, I would diminish the impact of the paragraph, because I am explaining/repeating something that I have already shown the reader. You want the image to have the greatest impact, so the reader can assign the appropriate emotion.You have to trust the reader to get it.

Sometimes the action is redundant. She felt her shoulder give way can be rewritten as Her shoulder gave way. She heard the bell chime can be The bell chimed. Words like felt, heard, saw, thought can decrease the immediacy of the scene. Try to find ways of eliminating them and retaining the meaning.

The sentence in the first draft She saw a man striding through the woods. can become A twig snapped.Then another. She froze, turned her head, waniting to crouch down and hide but equally needing to know what was out there. Her heart pounded in her ears as the large shape lumbered towards her.

The same goes with adverbs tags after said. The redear should be able to get the emotion from the words or from the physical beat.
'I can't believe you said that!' she said in astonishment.
Could be "I can't believe you said that!' or
'I can't believe you said that!' She leant forward, her eyes widened and her lips parted as if she was urging him to tell her more. To impart all his secrets.

Sometimes, adverb tags do work and they help the story to flow. It is when they become a crutch that it becomes a problem. I will look at physical beats tomorrow.

What you can trying to do with showing the reader is to create an intimacy and immediacy that forces the reader to turn the page.
If you find sections of the first draft where you are do a lot of showing, asked --why. How can you up the tension. Is this really needed? Or can you simply jump cut to another scene. Each word you use describing something means a word you can't use else wehere. For example, with my latest wip. I have exactly 75k to play with. If I spend 1,000 words describing how the heroine fixes her hair in the morning, it is 1,000 less words that I have to spend on a thrilling action scene. Personally I think the reader would prefer to read the high tension action, rather than the twists in a hairdo.
So thinking like a director can help.

Right I need to write my first draft which will have lots of telling because I want to my images down. Then I go back and revise.Layer to make something better, and to make it my own.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

In the Sunday Sun

Along with the other authors and editor who hail from the North East of England, I was featured in the Newcastle Upon Tyne's Sunday Sun last Sunday. It was a positive article. There was a photo that accompanied it, showing us smelling the roses. We all look very happy indeed.

Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife cover

My hardbacks of Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife arrived today and I finally got to look at my UK cover. All I can is WOW! I really like the feel of it. It does work. It is romantic and sensual without being over the top.

There are reasons that my editors are in charge of comissioning covers and doing the back cover copy. I can do the content, but I would never have done a cover like that one.

It is also higly inspirational as I am currently working on the third one. They are all stand alone, but the heroes appear in the other books.

Once I have a better jpeg file, I will put a copy of it on my myspace site.

The book will available in the UK in retail in June 08 as a paper back. Because the Romance Junkies are doing a special delurk to celebrate their fifth birthday, I am giving away one hardback copy to a lucky poster on Romance Junkies. The delurk happens on 13,14, 15 February. There are also copies of Taken by the Viking and A Christmas Wedding Wager to be won as well as loads of other prizes.

Monday, February 11, 2008

How to destroy your voice

When I was at Biddy's, I came across a book that she had purchased way back when she was just thinking about becoming a romance writer -- The Romance Writer's Phrase Book. Thinking it might be a list of words, I opened it and nearly dropped the book in horror. The book contains phrases, sentences, combination of words that are supposed to help you in your writing if you are writing romance. Anyone want to say -- cliche here? Why would anyone want to use it as it would be guaranteed to make your voice less unique? The writer would be using someone else's image, soeone else's words.

About the only use I can see for this book is using it to avoid cliches. And here I pray to God that I do not inadvertently use the phrases.
A book such as that one will NOT help you cultivate your own unique voice. It will only give you pat cliches that a thousand, nay ten thousand writers and want to be writers have already used. The phrases might not even be appropriate to your characters.
Publishers buy unique voices that tell good stories.They do not voices where they see the same words written over and over again. The same images. It is fairly good way to get rejected -- time and time again. The best thing you have going for you is your unique voice.Do not compromise it by using stupid shortcuts. It will take longer in the end.

I agree that one should should use physical beats and phrases to help give colour to a world. One should use active verbs and interesting words, but they need to be of the writer's own choosing. The phrases and physical beats that you use should come from your characters. How do they think about the world, what phrases might they use. An artist will see things differently than a Viking. A warrior differently than a nun. What life experiences colour their thinking? Choose words that give your character voices and colour. Make sure you choose different words for different characters. It helps you to create distinct personalities. Men use different language than women. Doctors speak differently than plumbers.

Your voice includes the words you choose, and the order in which you put therm together. As well as the subject matter and the theme. You destroy your voice when you start copying or adding phrases from other writers. End of story.

All your writing needs to come from within.

The building blocks for a writer are WORDS not phrases. Your words, not someone else's. You need to trust your deamon.

Okay, but how do you develop your literary skills?

First you read around the genre. Deconstrucct and look at how things are done. Self Editting for Fiction Writers is brilliant at explaining the nuts and bolts of showing not telling, interior monologue and physical beats.

When you are writing a first draft, accept that you will have a lot of telling.
In subsequent drafts, learn to look out for the telling. For example She sat down on the couch. It is not very exciting, but it gets the point across and you can go on with the story.later when you are revising, you look out for such sentences and try to make them more interesting and containing more. Ino therwrds, you make them work harder.
For example, She sank down in the soft enveloping cushions of the sofa, holding a hand out to him.
Or She perched on the edge of the couch, hands folded neatly in her lap, eyes bright and alert, watching every movement Rex made.
Sometimes even she felt unhappy or she felt happy will give you enough to carry on with getting the first draft done.

It is where your own literary talent comes in.
Cultivate words, not phrases. When you find words you like, make a list. Use a thesaursus. However, do remember to find out the exact meaning of aword. Much merriment and mirth would be saved if wrtiers actaully discovered what lavved means. A good vocabulary is never wasted on a writer. Only you know which words appeal to you. I love the word -- oozed. grin grates. Wink leaves me cold. But I adore elemental, raw, and soothing. Personal preference. Learn your own personal preferance for words. If manroot makes you cringe, don't use it.

As Kate Walker has said on many many occassions -- write like YOU and do not write like anyone else.

I think perhaps I ought to do a few blogs on showing, not tell, and physical beats. Just in case, some writer out there is confused and confuddled by what I mean.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Mills and Boon 100 years of Pure reading pleasure

Last Thursday, I attended a very special birthday party in honour of Mills & Boon and their 100 anniversary. It was held at the Wallance Collection. The Wallace Collection is housed in Hertford House, formally Manchester House. The rooms are labelled -- back state room, dining room, billiards room and are filled filled with fantastic French 18th century paintings and object d'art.

Expectations were high, particularly with the rumour of Butlers In the Buff appearing in the Observer books column, but would reality live up to expectation?

The train was late but other than that, the journey painless. Earlier Julie Cohen, Biddy had agreed that the best solution was for Julie and I to make our way seperately to the party and then Biddy would appear shortly after nine and we would go out to dinner.

So I mooched around Jermyn Street and had a bite to eat and a cup of tea at Fortnam's before the party. Basically I figured that it was best to have SOMETHING as the drink would flow. I then changed in the Ladies Powder Room and made my way to the Wallace Collection.

It took far less time than I planned and I got there early. However, like Wellington, I figure if I get somewhere early, I only waste my own time. I sat on a bench, talking to a lovely lady who did something with data processing. The editors arrived and I went in with them. I then slipped into my silk coat and my strappy sandals to complete my outfit.

The party began with the Bolli Darling Fabulous Flamingos going outside to greet the guests. The Flamingos were people on stilts with feathers. They made walking on stilts seem easy and how they got through the front door of the Wallace Collection, I do not know.

We were then ushered into the artrium which was lit with pink light. In the corners stood a candy floss stall, and an ice cream stall. Waiters were stationed with champagne and bellinis. The bar boasted an array of drinks.

It looked wonderful but where were the butlers in the buff? I concentrated on seeing Carol Townend, Linda Sole (Anne Herries). Then Liz Fielding came up.

They are here, she exclaimed in surprised delight. Look around you

I turned and saw that several of the waiters had undone their ties and several buttons of their shirts. Liz Fielding was the woman to be with as the waiters kept coming up to her. She ended up being photographed several times. Once, a waiter motioned to his friends and she was surrounded. I dare say they will provide inspiration for hero material. After all, a woman has to do something.

.The tenor Atilla crooned as the Butlers handed out red roses. Then Alan Titchmarsh gave a lovely address of welcome. He also gave advice about the roses. 2 inches off and plunk them in water.

Guy Hallowes, the Managing Director gave a brief history of Mills and Boon. He also showed the very first copy of the very first book M&B ever printed. He pointed out how M&B is going from strength to strength and is well placed to continue delvering on its promise for the next 100 years. Then Donna Hayes, the CEO of Harlequin Enterprises gave the closing remarks. Donna praised M&B and how well it was currently doing. She is the ultimate Power that is and a truly lovely lady with a razor sharp mind. The buck stops with her. Her speech should put to rest any lingering rumour about the London office closing. The reason why editorial is in London is that they have proven and continue to prove that they are excellent at their job. The editors know how to fulfil the promise that is made to the readers. They are in charge of the most successful lines in the organisation and going from strength to strength.
After that I had to go and get my photo taken for The Sunday Sun along with other authors and editors from the North East. We shall have to see what the photos are like...
Then I went back in and enjoyed the party. The authors had to have their photo taken -- all of us crammed on the stage. It was quite a gathering. (Or should we say cleavage of romance authors)

I had a lovely chat with my editor, and discovered that yes -- doing another Viking was fine and then I can do some more Victorian/Regency.
Eventually Biddy found Julie and I. We departed with our pink and white party bags.
It was the sort of party that I dreamt about going to when I first wanted to become an author. Indeed, it was a party worthy of gracing the pages of a Presents. Total glamour. But for it was made all the more special by the authors and editors who were there. People who have become friends. And as Julie Cohen remarked -- the editors of M&B always have the best shoes.

Back from London and a new cover

I am back from London. The M&B party was truly iconic. It was the sort of party that one daydreams about going to when you are an unpublished author. It was jammed packed with glitz and glamour. Filled with authors, agents and editors. Truly amazing. I will do a proper post later.

And yes, the Butlers in the Buff were there. Liz Fielding and I had a lovely time taking a few photos. But everytime, Liz did, they would insist on having their photo taken with HER! So she ended up being flanked by men who could easily star as inspiration for heroes! I however was never asked...there is just something about Liz and her wonderful smile.

A good time was had by all.

The US cover for Taken by the Viking has appeared in various places. It is basically the same as the UK cover, but the tones appear warmer. If you wish to read an excerpt, you may do so here.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Off to London

I am off to London today for the M&B cocktail party.
I will be back on Friday with pictures.

It should be one of the glamour events of the publishing year. I should have been better with my diet.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Mills & Boon on Facebook

Mills & Boon has created a fan group on Facebook.

It contains covers from all the different decades, starting with the 1920s.

It also has a listing of where the exhibition celebrating M&B will be.

I know some people are looking for the killer blog that I did on was awhile ago. I will try to find it.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

RNA Romance Prize and ANC in Czech

First of all, huge congratulations to Kate Hardy for winning the RNA Romance Prize 2008. Star that she is, she has already put a detailed account on her blog, including pictures. So go over and read about the winner's journey. It is such wonderful news. Breakfast at Giovanni's (In Bed with Her Italian Boss April 08 US) is a book with a lot of heart.

I did some more trawling through various Harlequin websites and discovered that A Noble Captive is also out in Czech. I had not looked at the Czech site before, but am assuming that they also put out Gladiator's Honour last December. It has the same cover as the Polish version. This is the first time though I have seen my name changed. In Czech I am Michelle Stylesova. Anwya that makes 8 languages that I know about and as I loved Prague when I visited back in 2006, I am thoroughly pleased.

Michelle Stylesová
Římský tribun Tullio upadne po útoku pirátů se svými muži do zajetí. Dostává se na ostrov, který je zasvěcen bohyni Kybele a který je základnou pro piráty. Tady se setkává s Helenou, neteří a pomocnicí zdejší kněžky, a snaží se ji naklonit na stranu Říma.Helena se snaží před ostrovany zatajit, že její teta kněžka je nemocná, a pokusí se ji zastoupit. Tullio ji ale prohlédne a snaží se jí její situaci ulehčit. Třebaže je brzy jasné, že v sobě našli zalíbení, Helena se obává, zda Tulliovi jde skutečně o ni, nejen o prospěch Říma.
Kat. číslo:
207 W 02/08
320 stran
Datum vydání:
15. 2. 2008
U nás v prodeji od:
1. 2. 2008
119 Kč
Cena pro vás:
98 Kč
You can purchase it here.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Iron Will

Last night, I cried for the umpteenth time at the movie, Iron Will. My eldest says that I should be handed a box of tissues before I watch this film. It is one of the family's favourites and was the first live action film that my eldest ever truly watched. He was four when he first watched. He is now 17 like the protagonist. When I suddenly realised it, I choked up.

It is also the perfect film to illustrate the concept of desire, determination, discipline and dedication plus perservance. It is based on a true story. Certainly the 1917 race was run but it was not won by the lead character.

Iron Will is about a 17 year old boy, Will Stoneman whose father wants him to go to college, but WIll isn't sure. His father wants him to follow his dreams. It is set in 1917. In order to raise the money, the father plans to take part in the Winnipeg to St Paul dog sled race, but the father is killed in a sledding accident involving a river, and the family faces financial ruin. Will decides to take his father's place and race. The prospect of racing is the only thing that makes Will feel alive, and despite dire predictions, he is determined to race and to win. It is a gruelling course and he experiences many hard ships along the way, but his integrity and strength of character shines through. Kevin Spacey plays the cyncial reporter who seeks to use Will for his own ends.
It is a Disney and there is a Happy Ending but everytime I watch it, my heart is in my mouth.

Because Christopher Vogler was in charge of Disney films at the time this was made, it also exemplifies the hero's journey. Even though I could dissect this, I was still in tears at parts. I knew the foreshadowing, the threshhold guardians, the trials, the friends, the shadows etc etc, but I still get wrapped in Will's struggle and his determination to win. We will not say how many boxes of tissues I went through...

It is a real feel good, pull at the heart strings adventure movie for all the family. A triumphant of the human spirit against the odds. And it remains a favourite of my family.
I am also blogging today about the Sexual Sequence/Courtship ritual and its uses in writing over at Unusual Historicals.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Action/reaction sequence and consequences

First of all, it has come to my attention that there has been another article on M&B, this time by The Independant. Although the article is unsigned, I suspect the journalist was a man. He certainly seemed taken with one of the editors, likening her to a M&B heroine. He also bravely called the M&B editiorial director a dame and ended with a yes ma'am. For the record, historical romances are about more than mob caps, doublets and ruffles. Thankfully the editors were able to explain about certain things. The important thing is that Mills & Boon is not about to change its promise to the reader. They have delivered on that promise for 100 years and they intend on keeping it. It is the reaction of the M&B reader that is important and not some journalist. They publish books for Their Readers and their readers are far more numerous than smug journalistic types realized.

I am starting to write my next one, a Viking with an unreconstructed Viking male (btw). And I make not apologies for Ivar being strong willed and in charge. Edda is more than capable of giving him a run for his money.
Every time I start manuscript,I have to keep the action/ reaction sequence in my head. Although coincidence can play a part at the start, it can not play a part at the end. My protagonists must be willful. In other words, they have strong wills and inner cores of steel. They make things happen.Their lives go out of balance, and then they try to restore the balance. This attempt at restoration causes the world to react in unexpected ways, forcing the protagonists to take bigger risks, until eventually they are playing for very high stakes indeed. One always has to ask -- what happens if my protagonist walks away. Going back to normal every day life is not an option. If it is, then the stakes and the risks are not high enough and the reader will lose interest.
Also if the action results in no reaction, then the plot can feel episodic rather than flowing. Every time a subplot is concluded, it must further the main story. It cannot be an end to itself.

And every time, I start a story, I have to remind myself of these things. You would think that I might have had it drummed into to my head by now, but no. It is what first drafts are for, I guess, allowing the creative side of my brain to explore the possibilities and see how I can make the stakes higher for my characters.

BTW, my daughter tells me that Gene Hunt is divorced in Ashes to Ashes and that is why he has moved to London. Okay, fine, but it would have been more poignant if his wife had died from something and he could not save her. Then he found it difficult to live in Manchester and so moved down. Also as some of this might be happening Alex Brown's head as she fights to return to 2008, divorce might be the easier option.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

A Noble Captive in Polish

Thanks to Donna Alward, I discovered that A Noble Captive is out in Polish this month. This is particularly interesting as The Daily Mail reports certain WH Smith shops in England are going to start stocking Polish copies of Mills & Boon. I would think comparing and contrasting the English versions and say the Polish versions of a Mills & Boon would be a great way to become better at a language.

I know reading the French version of A Noble Capitive has brought a lot of my French back to me. My sister who speaks Norwegian found it really helpful when Jessica Hart passed on some Norwegian books and she was able to reacquaint herself with the language. It is so much more fun to read a foreign language if what you are reading is interesting.

Anyway here is the blurb:



Numer 4(216)
W sprzedaży od: 18.02.2008r.
75 r. p. n. e.Z niewielkiej wyspy w pobliżu Krety piraci uczynili swoją kryjówkę i bazę wypadową. Stąd wyruszają na grabieżcze wyprawy, tu wracają z łupami i jeńcami, za których żądają wysokiego okupu. Na razie tolerują istnienie świątyni bogini Kybele, gdyż czują respekt przed jej strażniczką, starą Flawią. Nie wiedzą, że wieszczka jest poważnie chora. Kapłanka Helena nie zamierza ich o tym informować, świadoma grożącego świątyni niebezpieczeństwa, i potajemnie przejmuje obowiązki wieszczki. W tej skomplikowanej sytuacji znajduje sprzymierzeńca w więzionym przez piratów rzymskim oficerze, Marku Liwiuszu Tullio, którego przyjmuje pod swój dach i ukrywa. Oboje podejmują ogromne ryzyko...
cena: 11.99 zł
Buy here.

Friday, February 01, 2008

The Appeal of Gene Hunt

The Radio Times has a wonderful set of front covers this week -- all four on Ashes to Ashes. This is the new Gene Hunt show where he is now in 1981 London and causing mayhem for a female dci transported back from 2008.
The Radio Times wonders why Gene Hunt exerts such sex appeal on women. After all he is uncouth, neathanderthal and his opinion of women is not very PC. He should be the sort of man that women from 2008 run from, shouldn't he? But Gene Hunt has a huge female following. What is it about him?
Having used Philip Glenister as a model for Vikkar in Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife (out in the UK June 08), I think I can answer that -- it is his core of integrity and his devotion to his team, his family that appeals. He is the sort of man who once he gives his heart, gives it all without reservation. He is willing to fight for the people he cares about. He demands their loyality in return, but he givens no less of himself. He is a man of action and a man of his word. It takes a lot to earn his respect and trust, but once someone has, he is willing to listen and to protect and defend. And when the chips are down, and the whole world has deserted you, if you are part of his team, Gene Hunt will be there, fighting along side you, protecting you.
In other words, he is an unreconstructed alpha male.
I can well understand the appeal.
Ashes to Ashes starts on 7 February, BBC 1, 9 pm. My family are taping it for me as I have to be at the M&B cocktail party. To ask them not to watch it until I get home is asking far too much. They are all far too excited. Life on Mars was a fantastic show and fingers crossed, this will be as well. AS LONG AS THEY DO NOT MESS WITH GENE HUNT and he gets to keep his integrity. Oh please God, let him keep his integrity and devotion to his team.