Sunday, 30 September 2012

Sunshine Blog Award from @JMStewartWriter

Lovely Joanne Stewart, romance writer and author of The Playboy's Baby and A Second Chance at Forever was kind enough to tag me in with the Sunshine Blog Award meme. 

The Sunshine meme is simple: I answer 8 questions and then I spread the love and others to do the same.  so here goes:

1.      What is your favourite Christmas/festive movie?
The Sound of Music.  Hands down.  But to be honest, that's not a Christmas movie, it's an all year round spirit lifter.  If I was going to pick an actual Christmas film, I reckon it would be It's a Wonderful Life.  Hard to beat, really. 

2.      What is your favourite flower?
I was taken with Joanne's answer to this (roses, lilac and lavender), but for me the most magical flower is the bluebell.  In the dappled woods they spread, thick as carpet, beneath the trees as though the sky has shattered into a thousand pieces. Pick them and they droop in your hand.  Leave them and they whisper fairy songs.  Pure magic. 

Credit: amsr_photography

3.      What is your favourite non-alcoholic beverage?

Earl Grey tea, particularly served with a piece of very dark chocolate. Fragrant, invigorating and delicious. 

4.      What is your passion?

Mythology. If I look around the house I see tiny plastic models of the Minotaur and Cerberus, I see a hardback book of myths and legends flung open at Atalanta's story.  The shelves are packed tight with the Golden Bough, the Oxford Classical Dictionary and numerous plays in translation.  There's a fimo minotaur on the mantelpiece, alongside a lollystick Medusa.  Our kitten, Persephone, is curled on my knee.  All signs of a passion communicated and shared with my daughter.  Happiness is a tale of murder and god-given insanity ;-)

5.      What is your favourite time of year?

Normally I'd say right now.  I love autumn.  Love the hint of frost in the air, the clear blue skies, the crunch of leaves beneath my feet and the feeling of new beginnings, harvest, abundance and festival.  One of the stories I was proudest of as a kid was an ode to autumn. I wrote it when I was nine. 

6.      What is your favourite time of day?

When I'm not exhausted, I'd say early morning - dawn even.  Despite being a bit of a night owl, I function best in the morning. I have the most energy and the clearest head.  I like the pale wash of the light and the feeling of starting over. 

7.      What is your favourite physical activity?

I'm not big on sport but I do love being in the water, swimming, floating or just having a bath.  Sometimes I wonder if there's a bit of selkie in my bloodstream.

Credit: Jagrap

8.      What is your favourite vacation?

I have been to some wonderful places; sipping limonata in the sub-tropical beaches in Oaxaca - that was good.  A girls roadtrip around Ireland, getting lost on Inishmore - that was good.  Slipping in and out of the souks in Marrakesh - that was good (until I got a cold and then it was hellish).  But best of all was a holiday where I jumped on a ferry all on my own and went to Arran, an island off the West Coast of Scotland.  

I'd been having a bit of a difficult time and I went away on an impulse. It was the first time - the only time - I'd been away on my own.  I still remember the feeling of freedom of getting on that ferry, tasting the salt on my  lips and feeling the wind whip my hair.  The weather was awful, black skies and lashing rain, I wasn't kitted out for it and I didn't know a soul.  It was wonderful.  Magical.  

So who next?

I know some people who find memes a bit annoying, but I'm hoping that these two special people will spare the time because I'd love to get to know them better.  They are fellow myth lovers:

Melpomene Selemidis
Chris Ledbetter

Follow them on Twitter if you know what's good for you!

Friday, 28 September 2012

The LOOK challenge courtesy of @AimeeDuffyX

It's time for a meme.  Author of The Monster of Fame, sauce-tastic romance writer Aimee Duffy tagged me in the LOOK challenge:

The aim of the game is to search for the first instance of the word ‘look’ in your current wip and post this together with the surrounding paragraphs. Then I’ve to inflict this madness onto five others—fun times!
credit timlewisnm

Dutifully I searched my About To Be Significantly Restructured, Replotted And Rewritten Work in Progress Banshee  and lo! Here we go.  This scene is the first encounter that the heroine, Tara, has with the hero, Devlin:

. “I don’t think so.  MacFinn?  Doesn’t ring any bells.”  She forced herself to meet his gaze.  “What were you wanting them for?”  
As soon as she asked she wished she hadn’t.  It was a mistake to look too interested.
“I’d rather discuss that with them.” 
“A personal thing is it?  Well if I come across them, I’ll pass the message on.”  The words came out cold, frosted by the fear clogging her tongue. 
They’re coming
“There’s no need to so, Miss MacFinn, I can tell you directly.”
Not for the first time that day, Tara murmured one word. “Shit.” 

Aimee's latest work is currently on public display on the Mills & Boon contest So You think You Can Write - if you like Spanish millionaires and wicked heiresses, pop on over to the site and find one running round a hotel in her underwear!

Now to tag...

Ruth Long
Stacy Bennett-Hoyt
Kern Windwraith
Jenn at Brewed Bohemian
Afsaneh Khetrapal

Let's see what you're writing then!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

10 comforts to transform a miserable day

When the wind is raging and the rain is lashing outside, your throat is like barbed wire and you've drunk enough lemsip to turn your insides yellow, it's a good time to reflect on lovely things that improve the day:

1. A good book: I've just finished the Selkie Enchantress by Sophie Moss and as a consequence have spent the last two days immersed in a rain lashed Irish island chasing selkies and sipping whisky without ever moving from my sofa.  Wonderful.  Now on to a long overdue read of the incomparable Diane Reed's Twixt.   Loving it already.

2. A sofa blanket:  A sofa without a blanket is like a cat without fur.  Just. Not. Right.  Voluminous, warm and soft as silk, ready to be snuggled into with the aforementioned book.

3. A hot water bottle:  Even the smell of a hot water bottle makes my toes curl with pleasure.  When your feet are blocks of ice, nothing is nicer than tucking them inside a fluffy hot water bottle cover.

Credit: Jenny_Belly

4. Tea:  Not just any kind of tea, Earl Grey tea.  The tea of kings.  Well, okay the tea of earls.  Fragrant, hot and invigorating.

5. Crumpets:  There is no wintery snack better than a hot buttered crumpet, preferably with a smidgen of marmite.

Credit: Theodore Scott

6. Soup:  Spiced pumpkin, roasted butternut squash or plain old Heinz tomato, nothing comforts Autumn stomachs better than hot soup (preferably with warm buttery bread).

7. Very dark chocolate:  When I say dark, I mean dark.  85% cocoa dark.  Nibbled with your Earl Grey tea or wrapped around a gingernut biscuit, very dark chocolate is mood transforming.

8. Black and white movies:  It's days like today when I'm grateful for all those Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn and Powell and Pressburger movies which line my shelves.  A bit of I Know Where I'm Going will warm your heart, while your soup warms your belly.

9. A cat: Love them or loathe them (who could loathe them?) nothing beats a cat snuggling up on your lap, purring its heart out.

10. Painting:  Or drawing.  Or sticking.  Any kind of low complexity crafting, which engages something beyond your analytical brain and allows a bit of simple, satisfying creativity out.  Or if you're not up to that, look a pictures.

As the nights draw in, that's where you're find me.  Snuggled up under a blanket, sipping tea and watching black and white movies.  Chilling.  No, not chilling.  Warming.

And then...


Tuesday, 25 September 2012

A few autumn resolutions

Autumn is here and thus it's time for me to have a seasonal malady that I just can't shake, which tells me that I'm either overly stressed, burning the candle at both ends or just plain tuckered out.  This disappoints me as my New Year's Resolution was to chill the f*ck out in order to preserve my health and in all honesty I have. Unfortunately, sometimes life just happens anyway in all its frenetic chaos.

So, heading into the last quarter of the year.  Wait.  HOLD UP THERE.  It's NINE MONTHS since I wrote those resolutions?  Nooooooooo.   Slow down life!

Damn. I hate it when that happens.

But that's indicative too, life just tumbling on past without me noticing.  So back to that new year's resolution.  Chilling.

Now the autumn equinox has dawned and set golden and glorious, it's time to reconsider the issue of chilling.  I don't want another nine months to slide by unappreciated and blurred.  I want to crunch the autumn leaves beneath my toes.  I want to spend time breathing the frosty air (and not coughing).  And I want to see my daughter's eyes light up when she spies a shiny conker.

I want to spend time walking and painting and making crafty things.  I want to give myself time to do things wisely and well.

So there you go.  Daily meditation (taking an example from my wise other half) and more loveliness. I might write less, but when I do I'll enjoy it more and it will be higher quality.  Or at least I hope that's the case.

The rest of the year will be spent upcycling Jam Jars  (find out how on the Salt Tree)

Friday, 21 September 2012

Michael Hauge - Master of Stories

Over the last year I've benefited massively from plot and structure advice from Twitter pals and Fictionista friends (especial thanks to Ruth Long founder of Sweet Banana Ink). It is entirely due to their generosity that I've discovered Larry Brooks and Margie Lawson, which have been revolutionary.

 Now thanks to the incomparable Sophie Moss I've been looking up musings from Hollywood screenwriter Michael Hauge. And he's good. Very good.

His advice is quite similar to Larry's but I think if you're writing romance it's even more accessible, primarily because he speaks at RWA conferences and understands the genre. Sadly, being on the wrong side of the pond it's unlikely I'll be able to attend one of Michael's workshops myself, but happily I came across a blog which summarised his workshop very helpfully:

Jami Gold, Paranormal's Authors Michael Hauge blog posts. (with thanks to Jami Gold!)

 And of course you can always pop over to Michael's Story Master website to pillage his wonderful resources.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Getting the Skinny on A Hero

On Sunday morning I decided a face to face confrontation was in order.

Gratuitous Fassbender picture
My hero was being inconsistent.  He wasn't going in the direction I thought he should.  He wasn't being authentic.  The sure signs of a hero who is rudely eluding his author. That's IT thought I.  ENOUGH. It's time we had A Conversation.

Happily, there are lots of guides on t'interweb for helping people through this difficult interview. The ever helpful J.D.Wenzel provided me with his list of character interview questions, and I also stumbled across the Proust Questionnaire which is used as the basis for Vanity Fair's interactive Turbo Proust interview (compare your answer's to their celebrity guests).

Tweeting about questionnaires, lovely erotica author Cara Bristol wrote:  "I try to enhance the story, but not repeat it, yet not provide new stuff that it couldn't be gleaned from the story."

Great advice from Cara!  But here's the interesting thing: as I questioned my hero Devlin, it became apparent that some of the stuff gleaned from the story was just wrong.  I'd been trying to box Devlin into various actions which frankly, he wouldn't do.  Why?  Because they didn't fit with his values and his story.

So what has Devlin confided in me so far? 

Firstly, he's carrying around a lot of guilt and something of an overweening sense of responsibility.  Deep down he believes he precipitated his little brother's gangland death.  He resented his mother and was relieved when she died.  But his failure to protect and rescue his mother and his brother has stayed with him, as has his resentment at the father who left before he was born.

That tells me something important about the things which Devlin would find most testing and challenging and sets a whole chain of "what ifs" in progress.  Suddenly, I have a new First Plot Point to my story which sets Devlin on his path and in direct conflict with my heroine Tara.

What else? 

I also discovered that politically, he's quite conservative.  This goes back to my earlier post about whether your characters share your values.  I'm most definitely left wing liberal.  If I lived in the States, I'd no doubt be a Democrat or equivalent thereof.  Devlin isn't.  He's tough justice, family values and low taxes do-it-for-yourself.   That surprised me!

There's much more besides.  After the success of this enterprise, I'm looking forward to having the same stern chat with my heroine. Tara Donovan, you'd better get ready to open up!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Plotting to Fix Your Romance (the Written Kind)

I might have mentioned I've hit a hump in my current work in progress Banshee ("Where do I go from here?").  I might also have mentioned it's a hump that isn't precisely an irregular occurrence for me.

I've been reflecting on this dastardly humpage issue.  Where did it come from?  How can I climb over it and proceed with the wondrous pouring forth of creativity, casting of narrative seeds and watering of cerebral roses for which I long?

Needing to sprout (image by Bossco)

Despite my stated antipathy to thinking about story structure, I know I need to get to grips with it.  You have to know the rules before you can break them and whilst I might long to be the George RR Martin of the romance writing world, I think I might need a bit of text book guidance.

One planning weakness for me in approaching romance is that there are two protagonists and nine times out of then I know one character much better than the other.  

Stories tend to come with me in a scene... or a 'what if?'...  and nearly always that scene is focused on one key character.  For me that character is in glorious technicolor, 3D and bursting with life.  The other, more often, is not.  

With Banshee I can walk inside the heroine's skin, feel what she's feeling and see what she's seeing.  The hero is a different kettle of fish.  Even when creating pinterest boards, my heroine Tara's clothes and appearance were easy to collate because I knew what she liked.  His were not.

My conclusion is that I need to go back to the drawing board.  

I need all my characters talking to me.  I need to understand the thing which challenges each of them at the deepest levels.  I particularly need to understand that for my hero.

Only then can I create a First Plot Point which will shape the story to come and take me sailing past that 34K mark....

(for the record, I do have a First Plot Point at present - it's just a bit rubbish).

Friday, 14 September 2012

Where am I going with this?

I wish I were a planner but I'm not.

I map out roughly.  I put milestones down and think about characters.  And then?

I plunge in.  I'm a 30,000 word sprinter.  I can manage 30,000 no problem, before I start to wander...  and slow... and stop.  I've got any number of 30,000 words novels that have fizzled and stopped.  Add them all together and you have an epic longer than A Song of Fire and Ice (not that I'm obsessed or anything).

I'm jealous of writers (I'm looking at YOU Sophie Moss) who plan really well. It's not that I don't know how to plan - I've read all about snowflake methods and story fixes.  And I've tried, really I've tried.  I've tried excel sheets and folders, spider diagrams (mildly more successful) and Scrivener.  I've sought advice, I've worked with critique partners.

I just don't enjoy it. Like dealing with my accounts, tidying the bedroom, doing the ironing and jogging it doesn't make it on my list of things I like doing.  For now I'm going to take heart from my current hero, George RR Martin:

"There are some writers who are architects, and they plan everything, they blueprint everything, and they know before the drive the first nail into the first board what the house is going to look like and where all the closets are going to be, where the plumbing is going to run, and everything is figured out on the blueprints before they actually begin any work whatsoever. And then there are gardeners who dig a little hole and drop a seed in and water it with their blood and see what comes up, and sort of shape it. They sort of know what seed they've planted — whether it's an oak or an elm, or a horror story or a science fiction story, but they don't how big it's going to be, or what shape it's going to take. I am much more a gardener than an architect."
Audio Interview with Geekson in Episode 54, (4 August 2006)

And then I'm going to try and work out where the hell I go to after the first 34,000 words.... maybe watering will help.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Does your book have values?

I've been thinking a lot about values this week; about what I value and about what other people value.  I believe that knowing what you truly value is essential to making good choices, about work and about people.    It dictates your work, your alliances, what you wear, where you live and what you buy.

Or does it?

Maybe I just think that because I value values.


Anyway, my musings led me to this.... my values infuse my writing?  Do my heroes and heroines behave congruently with my values or do I write their values?  Is it possible to write a hero or heroine that you don't identify with in some way shape or form? 

Weirdly, I wasn't sure.  I think my characters are informed by my values, but in a way I think that this is lazy writing.  Perhaps if I got to know my characters better before jumping in with telling their story, I would know them better and write them different. Or perhaps I just wouldn't be mentally hanging out with characters which were far removed from what I value.

What about other authors?

In prolific authors, I think it's possible to find a kind of pattern in the values of their key characters.  Georgette Heyer's heroines are often pragmatic, intelligent and relatively selfless.  Even the spoilt heiresses, like Barbara Childe, who declare themselves to be selfish are prone to acts of heroism and self sacrifice.

Sherilyn Kenyon's heroes tend to be screwed up but resilient; survivors of some sort of incident or abuse that has left them black around the edges but with a hidden nugget of gold.  Trust is a big thing in her books, and learning to live again.

But before I got too carried away with this, I got stuck on George RR Martin.  Damn.  I'm nearing the end of  book two of A Song of Fire and Ice.  He's good.  He's better than good, he's gripping.  His plots twist and turn but are perfectly foreshadowed.  His characters are three dimensional and leap from the page.  Author-wise he's the one to beat.

It's all about the dragons I tells ya

But his thematic values?  God knows.  Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character. Each character is markedly different.  Cersei is cold, ambitious, fearless and brave.  Tyrion is protective, wise, pragmatic and cunning.  Ned is loyal, selfless, dutiful and loving.  No two are the same.  There are no black and white heroes or villains:  once inside the mindset of each you can sympathise with them all.  They are real in every shade of grey (not just fifty) imaginable.

Is this the sign of a truly great writer - to be led by his characters, not to lead them?  To have 31 different heroes and heroines, each sympathetic, frustrating, lovable and despicable by turns?