Monday, January 31, 2011

Halfway through the Shred

Halfway through my 30 Days and I have started to see results. Not so much with my weight but the way my clothes fit.  Basically I can now comfortably fit into clothes that I wouldn't have dared to even try a few weeks ago. This includes a dress that my mother made for me last summer for the RWA conference. It kept getting stuck. Now it is loose, particularly around the waist. An interesting development is how much more comfortable my nice shoes are.  When I say  I gain weight all over, I didn't realise that mean my feet as well...My energy levels are also increasing. I know I am definitely stronger.
As it was my birthday last week and we went out to dinner on Saturday to friends who produce a good spread, I am not surprised my weight is steady. On Saturday, I wore The Dress that my mother made. Lots of compliments.
My appetite is more but I assume that is because I am exercising more. The thing to do is to remember to drink more water and to make sure that I know why I am eating. Has it been 3-4 hours since I last ate? If not then it is probably not hunger. What am I feeling when I want to eat? Eating is not always about hunger and there are a lot of other emotions involved.
It is the small successes that inspire and make you want to keep going. So much so that I ordered the next Jillian Micheals dvd -- 6 weeks to 6 pack abs which is supposed to be a step up from the Shred. I do like her attitude. And how when I am dying, she chirps with little bits of encouragement. Tough but with lots of heart.
So 15 more days of the Shred to go.

Friday, January 28, 2011

New clothes and dealing with backstory

First of all , day 10 of The Shred. I have hit level 3 and am able to wear a pair of pants that I could even get fastened a few months ago. The weight is holding steady but I assume muscle is heavier than fat. I know I am getting fitter but I still died when I did level 3. It will get there.

One of the interesting sections in Characters & Viewpoints is about how to handle backstory. Basically there are two ways -- the remembered past as a flashback, memory told, or quick reference.  Which is mostly how authors handle backstory. Or the implied past -- expectation, habits and networks. An implied past can make the world seem like a much bigger place without even having to say what that past was.  For example,  Expectation: Jane threw herself on the ground and covered her head when she heard a car back fire, certain it was a gun shot.
Habit Every time Jane walked into a room, she instinctively checked for another exit, just in case she needed to get out quick.
Jane thought she wouldn't know anyone at the concert but in the course of five minutes she saw three people from work, two from her daughter's playgroup and five or six people whose faces she recognised but couldn't say from where. This was a very bad sign.

It is easier to believe in characters if you think they have past, complete with connections to other people. Anyway,  I found it intriguing and useful to be reminded of the various tools in a writer's tool box.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Goodreads giveaway for Breaking the Governess's Rules

My author copies for Breaking the Governess's Rules arrived yesterday. So...

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Breaking the Governess's Rules (Historical) by Michelle Styles

Breaking the Governess's Rules

by Michelle Styles

Giveaway ends March 01, 2011.
See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

In shredding news: I threw away pair of cords as they are now too big. My daughter was very pleased as she said they were pants only a mother could wear. I informed her I was a mother.

And yes, today is my birthday as well being Australia Day. I am another year older. It is ALWAYS good to hang another year on the line. Can't do anything about it, might as well enjoy it. Looking forward to what this year will bring.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

MICE and the author

As part of my attempts to improve, I have been reading, in particular over the weekend I read Orson Scott Card's Characters and Viewpoints. The book has been around since 1988 but I hadn't read it.
He uses the acronym MICE to explain about how various books are created but it struck me that MICE goes further -- to the heart of how an author gets her ideas and what interests her.
Ultimately you have to be good at everything. Without plot, there is no characters and without characters, there is no plot. Can you tell I get irritated by authors who claim that their work is entirely character driven or plot driven, particularly when they are writing commercial fiction? It is more complicated than that. It is a combination. Not one without the other. But ultimately it is the CHARACTERS that people remember and who linger. Characters who breathe life into a plot. But plot gives characters something to do.
How to get there:
Authors are either more Milieu, Idea, Character or Event (Premise) orientated. The end product is what counts so one is not better than the other. It is what intrigues the author and gives the impetus to her work.
Milieu or world building means that readers want to return time and again to the world the author creates. Debbie Macomber and Robyn Carr are fantastic at world building. Jan Karon as well. Tolkien. CS Lewis. JK Rowling. In fact any author who writes a successful series where  readers want to return has a real milieu strength. Build your world right, and readers will return time and again to experience that connection (even if perhaps the characters are not as well rounded or as fully dimensional.) They want to live in that world. Without proper world building, the story feels flat. Without knowing where it is set, you can't make a lot of choices about the character and how they will interact with people.
Idea means theme. What the story is about and the message the author wants to convey. Again without the idea, you can't know how you want a character to grow. Without the Idea you don't know how they will grow or why they should grow.
Character means the people who populate the story.Some authors are intrigue by a character and want to explore how they change.  It is about getting inside someone's head and seeing what makes them tick. Readers remember characters. But a character needs to be more than a talking head.
Event means premise. Some authors are drawn to a certain premise or happening. A reunion story. A runaway bride. Why is this story going to happen at all? What is going to cause the characters to change? Without knowing the point of change, you don't have a story. What is the character going to do in the story and what do you want at the end? It is the essence of storytelling. The dictates of the premise helps    to determine what sort of character you build. Without a story, the reader is reading an essay. Essays have their place but not in commercial fiction.Without a premise, you can't begin to ask about motivation.
Hopefully you can see choosing where to start is a bit like chicken or egg. Sometimes it is impossible to tell.
There is no right or wrong answer. It is merely where you start,  and to have a  3-d character that readers will remember you have to use all the letters in MICE. But different authors start in different places and that just makes it interesting. But knowing where you  like to start can help.
So what do you like to start with? Milieu, Idea, Character or Event.
 Me? I suspect that I start with Event,closely followed by Milieu and then I start asking questions about Character. The Idea gets incorporated in later.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Jillian Micheals of the editorial world

I have decided that my editor is the Jillian Micheals of the editorial world -- very tough but with a lot of heart and absolutely 100 percent committed to making my stories absolutely the strongest possible. She pushes me and she certainly doesn't accept second best.
Before Christmas, she asked me to set aside the one I was currently working on. It just wasn't strong enough in its current form and in fact in her judgement, it was getting weaker. A hard decision for both of us. But I trust her judgement.
And after thinking a lot about it, I realised that among other things, it should have been the last book of a quartet rather than the first book of a duo. It may eventually get there. It may even be more single title than series. Loads of things needed to change and it just was not happening.
Did it hurt? Yes.
Was it the right decision? Yes. It is far far worse in the long term to put out something that is substandard.
I rather wait and get it right. That book has huge potential. I am just not ready to realise its potential yet (and I have 3 other books in the series to write first!)
And I toss this out so that people can realise being a published author doesn't mean that your books are always accepted. You are only as good as your last book. It happens  -- far more often than people might think. The difference is what you do after a set back.

I am currently working on a new ms. Stand alone Regency The partial has been sent back twice. My editor thinks it can be strengthened. And she is right. (Among other things I had gone for a reactionary start -- emotional situation but the heroine was passive) She is utterly committed to making my work as strong as possible. I am very lucky to have her. I want it to be my best to date and my editor is certainly trying to get me there.

So when I have been doing my 30 day shred with Jillian Micheals dvd, I have been thinking about my editor and her determination to wring every last drop of emotion out of this story and to push me to do my best.
It isn't easy but the results will be worth it.
With my shred, I have moved up to level 2 and am busy dying. My clothes are getting looser though, so the results are starting to happen.
If someone is going to make big promises, they have to be tough and they have to be willing to see it through.

Have I said that I love my editor?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


I have decided that this year, I am really going to try to get a handle on my weight and fitness. It is a problem that a lot of writers face because it is really butt in chair and hands on keyboard. However, various instruments of torture such as the rowing machine are currently doubling as clothes horses, silent marks of shame. (Actually my youngest and my dh use the rowing machine and are constantly changing the settings). Plus I don't really like working out in the basement...
I do walk dogs but that is not really shifting the flab. The diet remains on going but again the flab stays. Plateauing is no fun. The only thing to do is to up my workouts. So I have purchased several fitness dvds.
First up -- Jillian Micheals 30 day shred. I figure I can do 30 days (I am on Day 2). It can't hurt. Level 1 just about killed me yesterday (to my surprise -- obviously dog walking is not doing as much as I had hoped!) However I will get better. The workouts are only 20 minutes long...or that is what it says. Pure torture lasts much longer.

With writing, I continue to go back to basics. Stimulus reaction units aka motivation reaction units or how you show feeling. Something happens, the characters reacts to it. The character can't react and then have something happen. If several somethings happen and the character does not react or react appropriately for the time and place, things feel off. It can be in your head and not on the page. But it is about wringing the last drop of emotion out. It is so easy to assume I know these things and realise that I have forgotten.

Friday, January 14, 2011

RWAustralia Flooded Communities Book Appeal

A friend let me know about this:

We've all seen the devastation the recent Queensland floods have wrought

and have wondered how we can help. We know that for many affected

families, books will not be high on their priorities list for some time

to come.


We also know how valuable books can be in providing time out when

reality gets tough.


With the aid of some wonderful volunteers, we've put together a Romance

Writers of Australia Flooded Communities Book Appeal.

What we need?

FICTION BOOKS! Romance books, children's books, young adult books, genre

books, whatever – either new or in sparkling condition.

Please send them to:

RWA Flooded Communities Book Appeal

PO Box 1717

Noosaville Post Office

Noosaville BC

Queensland 4566


When to send them?

Now! And any time over the next few months. The books will be boxed and

delivered to the appropriate libraries/schools/neighbourhood

centres/community centres in batches as soon as the communities are

ready to receive them. We'll be liaising with councils, libraries

and schools to ensure this is done appropriately. Feel free to pop a

note inside, or if you're an author, sign it.

If you have a question about donations, email Jess Anastasi:

If you work in a library / council / community centre / school in a

flood affected area, email Rachel Bailey:

And now for the extra detail...

I want to ask an extra favour of everyone on this list. If you feel

comfortable enough about it, and your publisher has some sort of

group/e-loop, please forward this on to them. In fact, forward it to

anywhere you think might be useful. Put it up on your blog or website,

talk about it on facebook and twitter. The more people who know, the

more books we're likely to get. We'll take donations from anywhere, so

long as people are willing to send those books!

If you have any questions, send me an email.

Thanks for your cooperation and support!

Jess Anastasi

RWA Flooded Communities Book Appeal Team

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sometimes it just has to be American

I have lived in the UK for over 22 years now but in that time I have remained consistent in my longing for a top loading washing machine. The vast majority of UK washing machine are front loading. It makes sense as most are in the kitchen, under cabinets. But front loading means smaller. It also means leaks (I know I have been there -- one memorable occasion I managed to flood the utility room).  After the flooded utility room incident, I did buy a UK top loader...over the phone as the Internet was not that advanced. It duly arrived. A UK top loader is a slim line loader and the drum is turned on its side. It is not designed for heavy use. I wore out four drums before the warranty expired...So I went into my local John Lewis and had a long conversation with the staff where I learnt that all washing machines were not alike and that some are designed for light use. With three young children (at the time) and a husband who ran, I needed heavy duty. They did not stock an American top loader so I went with Miele. I had that Miele for 11 years, constantly on and running and never had to call out the washing repair man. This is opposed to becoming friends with the repair man over the other two washers... However over the last year, it was clear that my trusty machine was not working as well as it should. The time had come. My husband mentioned the top loader again as he always liked the washing machine at my mother's and the speed at which our laundry was done.
I was very pleased when I discovered John Lewis does sell American top loaders (the John Lewis Internet site is wonderful) and they sell Maytag. The Maytag advert about the lonely washing machine repair man has lived long in my memory. Maytag is a brand to trust.
Yesterday, it arrived. It is wonderful. It takes a much larger load than the old Miele. Laundry breeds in this house.
 The delivery man said that he hoped I knew how to use it as he didn't have a clue! Umm they are very simple to use.
My youngest took one look and proclaimed it American and large. It is ironic how pleased I am to FINALLY have the sort of washing machine I grew up with.
I hope it lasts and that the old advert was right...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Suspension of disbelief

When you are reading fiction, you have to suspend your disbelief.  You know the story isn't true, the situation isn't true and the characters have not really lived, not in the way that author protrays them BUT you willing suspend that disbelief and enter into the author's world. You want to be able to live there and be a part of it.
If the characters don't ring true, the reader is pulled out.
Reasons for being pulled out included less than likeable characters, protagonists acting ways repellant to reader and the reader can't get her head around it, gaps in motivations/reactions, viewpoint problems, not enough research, failure plant sop that the character comes across as inconsistent and so forth.
Yes, once again I am trying to get to grips with the problem of creating truly memorable characters. And my failings are many. It is about more than filling out a character sheet. It is making sure things are on the page and understanding the back story, making sure the characters reveal the right emotion for the right reason at the right time.
I am currently rereading Creating Characters -- How to Build Story People by Dwight Swain. Slowly but surely I am hoping to improve. Rather than reaching for a new how to book, I am going back to my library and seeing what I can learn or whatI missed the first time.
First rule of thumb -- love your characters as it does show.

Monday, January 10, 2011

I am not a TIger Mother

Yesterday in the Sunday Times and today in the Times, there were articles about a Chinese Mother and how her methods of parenting. Basically Linda Chua has written a book entitled The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother which details how she hothoused her two daughters. She is only satisfied with  the best and runs a very strict regime -- no playdates, no sleepovers, no drama productions, As are the only grade good enough and if you are taking an instrument, you practise. 3 hours per day.  The parent has high expectations and does not settle for anything less
She details how she locked her 3 year old daughter out in the snow when she was defiant and how they do have screaming rows.
My children were appalled.
My daughter asked if I approved. My answer was that as I had not done those things to them, then I was unlikely to approve. The mere thought of the angst expended to force a child to practice for 3 hours day in and day out makes me want to lie down in a darkened room. There again I never wanted my children to be professional or play to a professional standard. The more time you practice, the better you will be but it needs to come from within. The desire must be inside the child. It is telling that when given the option at 13, the younger daughter immediately dropped her music in faovur of tennis.
While I do believe in parents developing their children's self-discipline, and like to think of myself as reasonably strict, life is far too short. I like celebrating achievements that matter to my children.
I loved the fact that my eldest had to discover the hard way that hard work does pay off. Not for a guitar piece but for his A levels. I think he is very proud of his accomplishments. I know I am. I also think the lesson he learnt will hold him in good stead for his adulthood.
I sincerely hope my daughter is putting in the hard work required as I believe she is capable of doing well on her A levels. I hope my youngest is doing the same with his GCSEs. But ultimately it is up to them and whether it matters to them.
Tough love is hard but there is a difference between tough love and sadistic parenting.
I make no apologies for being me and my sort of mother.
It is not a race but ultimately it is about creating indivdual who will be well balanced successful adults, no matter what life throws at them.

Friday, January 07, 2011

And more mice trouble

Thank goodness my traps work.

Mice have chewed the electrics in the kitchen, getting under the floorboards upstairs. The electircian held out the offending wires in silent accusation. All is now replaced...the kitchen lights work again and the traps set.

 I  hope the seven mice I have caught since new year are it. They are so destructive. We could have had a fire! Silly me to think that having vanquished them last year, that they woud not be back in the cold weather! Mice can squeeze in through the smallest of holes.

I do not mind mice outside as long as they don't attack my beehives etc. I do mind mice chewing wires in the house!
It is obvious that Mr Darcy and Heathcliff have decided that chasing mice is not as much fun as curling up in front of the fire!

One of my least favourite jobs is checking the mouse traps but someone has to do it. Particularly after reading the Bryson book.

Have you set a mouse trap today? Or do you prefer curling up in front of a fire?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Perfect Concubine -- cover and blurb

My lovely editor sent through the blurb and cover for The Perfect Concubine yesterday. I really think it captures the essence of the story.

Rome, 68 B.C.
Valeria’s life is in the hands of Piso the Greek—the very man who had risen from a common sailor to wealthy ship owner following their doomed romance. He is the only man brave enough to sail the dangerous seas to Alexandria to reunite Valeria with her missing brother and restore her family’s fortune. But Piso demands a high price for his help: Valeria must become his concubine and share his bed once more….

It is available for download in North America in February. I believe looking at the UK Historical Undones, it will go out there then. If it does well enough, they may stick it in a print anthology -- otherwise Undone is an online exclusive.
It is a short 15k read.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Return of the mice

After reading At Home -- A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson, I decided that perhaps the mouse traps ought to be dusted off and put down in the basement again. The result = 3 dead mice.
It is a matter of checking and re baiting but mice can get anywhere...and do.
At Home is a brilliant book full of lovely factoids. I had already read a lot of his research books and knew one or two things he quotes makes for a good story but not totally accurate. For example, the oft quoted story about schoolgirls being strapped to make their waists 13 inches in diameter. That is smaller than a mayonnaise jar and Dorothy Langley Moore back in the 1940s proved that it didn't happen. Her theory was that people exaggerated and that clever cuts can make things look small. She also had one of the largest collections of dresses from the period.  When she did her book in the 1940s, she found that at times, she did have to take the waist in. Best guess for Judith Flanders was that the periodical where the story is taken from served as a cover for S& M bondage types. According to Flanders there are two types of letters in Beeton's periodical -- one sort deals with tight lacing, spanking etc and the other dealt with more normal aspects.
It should be remember that Scarlet OHara was created by a woman living in the 20th century and who never had her waist cinched or indeed knew people  who were currently wearing a corset and crinoline. 
It is a bit like saying that everyone wears 10 inch high heels today.

Monday, January 03, 2011

His Stand In Bride -- the final chapter

In which Anne and Jason reach their HEA (it is a romance after all), the final chapter of His Stand In Bride is up on eharlequin. The enitrety of the story is also up now in case people (Chris I am thinking of you!) want to read it in one go. It was written in one go and so it is how I have always read it.
Anyway, thank you to everyone who has read thus far and commented. I do appreciate it.

Last night I discovered Zen -- the adaptation of Michael Dibdin's Roman dectective novels -- has started on BBC 1. Absolutely must watch. Stunning visually. Rufus Sewall stars as the dectective. And Dibdin was a great crime novelist so the plots hold together. A fantastic way to start the New Year. The lack of spin/excitement about the series in the general media is surprising. Luckily I happened to realise what it was! Dibdin is one of my dh's favourite novelists. The tv series does not disappoint. (I assume it will go to the US in the autumn as part of Masterpiece Theatre's crime season)

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Breaking the Governess's Rules excerpted on Amazon

One very pleasant discovery today was that not only is the paperback cover for Breaking the Governess's Rules up on but also it is part of the Search Inside scheme. First pages can be read and there is a surprise me feature. Hopefully people will find it useful.,
And I do love the colours chosen for the cover.

Happy New Year One and All!