Sunday, December 30, 2012

Quiet on Set!

The high point of my holiday season was helping my daughter shoot the first segment of her sketch comedy pilot. I was much closer to the the action than on a project in 2011, when I was craft service (caterer) and she was directing a pilot for a reality show on electric cars. I was craft service and clean up crew, but I also was a driver, dialogue coach, line producer, and script supervisor.

We filmed downstairs. Our family room turned into a German living room, with a small orange couch, matching lamps on side tables made by my son, a low coffee table hiding the microphone and a few props. I turned the camera on and off. My granddaughter operated the sound recorder. Rachel positioned and focused the camera on a tripod. (My eyes are too old to do delicate focusing, and I know nothing about cameras.)

She and our friend Sarah got into costume with 80's wigs we'd ordered several weeks earlier. We'd visited thrift stores for more costume pieces, borrowing some, buying others. I realized with no small degree of admiration how long she'd been collecting things for this project. For two years now, I have cursed the ever-growing clutter created by the couch, props and costume components.

Rachel wrote the script. Five pages means five minutes of screen time. The filming took three days.  We did take after take of the opening sequence. At least fifteen. The first were dedicated to getting the flow of the dialogue. She and Sarah are exotic dancers posing as exchange students to get to the oil fields of North Dakota, where they are sure that money flows.

We finished the front takes, did the right side takes and were moving the tripod to do the left side takes when the camera froze. A desperate Internet search explained this model of HD camera was sold with a factory flaw which could only be fixed if the camera was sent back for repairs. We scrambled to borrow a camera from a relative, and were filming two hours later.

The second day, we had multiple costume and set changes. Some were outdoors; others in other rooms. We ended the day at Burger King, where we shot two scenes surreptitiously--one in the playland and one in their bathroom. The third day, we retook two segments and shot the last new one.

Acting is hard. Actors need to say and do the same things over and over until the director and DP feel they have sufficient footage to edit for a final cut. Crew needs to be infinitely patient while sets and costumes are changed. They also know not to cough, sneeze, pass gas, laugh or breathe heavily while the sound is recording.

All the takes have been uploaded into Final Draft, and synced with the sound recordings. Now Rachel will pick the best micro-seconds of each take and splice them together into a flowing five minute video. She'll add voice-over, finalize the title, font and colors for the credits.

Editing is where the story is made or lost, and it is a solo operation on a laptop. I'll be excited to see it when it is done, and even more excited when it can be sent out for review and sale. I'll keep her from becoming discouraged. Make sure she finishes it and moves on to the next installments.

I want to see her succeed. And maybe get a job in the movie biz.  I've got an idea for a script....


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Answers to The Literary Christmas Quiz - and the winners!

 
1. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.
Gift of the Magi by O Henry

2. It was on the afternoon of the Christmas Eve, and I was in Mrs. Prothero's garden, waiting for cats, with her son Jim. It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas.
A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas

3. Santa Claus lives in the Laughing Valley, where stands the big, rambling castle in which his toys are manufactured. His workmen, selected from the ryls, knooks, pixies and fairies, live with him, and everyone is as busy as can be from one year's end to another.
A Kidnapped Santa Claus by L Frank Baum

4. Christmas isn't just a day. It's a frame of mind.
Miracle on 34th Street by Valentine Davies

5. I had called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes upon the second morning after Christmas, with the intention of wishing him the compliments of the season. He was lounging upon the sofa in a purple dressing-gown, a pipe-rack within his reach upon the right, and a pile of crumpled morning papers, evidently newly studied, near at hand.
The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle by Arthur Conan Doyle

6. Lights were shining from every window, and there was a savory smell of roast goose, for it was New-Year's Eve yes, she remembered that. In a corner, between two houses one of which projected beyond the other, she sank down and huddled herself together. She had drawn her little feet under her, but could not keep off the cold. And she dared not go home, for she had sold no matches.
The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen

7. After a meal of turkey sandwiches, crumpets, trifle, and Christmas cake, everyone felt too full and sleepy to do much before bed except sit and watch Percy chase Fred and George all over Gryffindor tower because they'd stolen his prefect badge.
Harry Potters and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K.Rowling
 
8. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss
 
9. This bell is a wonderful symbol of the spirit of Christmas – as am I. Just remember, the true spirit of Christmas lies in your heart.
The Polar Express by Chris van Allsburg

10. I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world!
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens 
 
Many thanks to all who entered. Four entries were 100% correct, so - in the spirit of Christmas - I'm happy to give of a PDF of any of my novels to:
Sue Millard
Lyn Hickey
Lorna and Larry Collins
Glynis Smy
 
Congratulations to you all. Please visit my website http://paulamartinromances.webs.com/ and let me know which novel you would like.
 
And a very Happy New Year to all the followers of Heroines with Hearts - we hope to see you here again in 2013!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ten Sentences from my WIP

Since I have Jake and Amber on my mind a lot lately...and that's a good thing!...I thought I'd share a short excerpt from their story, "This Feels Like Home". This is the first time the couple meets.

“You look like you’re new in town.” The slow, husky drawl penetrated the background din and distracted her from her task.

She looked up with a frown. The shadow from the brim of his cowboy hat obscured most of the man’s features, but a dimple winked in his cheek when he smiled. A black T-shirt stretched tight across his shoulders, and well worn jeans hugged his lean hips.

She bit back a groan and disconnected the call instead of punching in her code. She wasn’t in the mood to be hit on by one of Gail’s 'nice' cowboys, but she plastered a smile on her face. “Not really. I’m visiting my cousin.” She avoided his gaze and took a sip of her drink. The tart flavor slid over her taste buds.


Any thoughts?!

Until next time,

Happy Reading and Merry Christmas!

Debra
www.debrastjohnromance.com

For your holiday reading pleasure:

A Christmas to Remember
Mistletoe and Folly

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Literary Christmas Quiz



Here’s a quiz for you! All the quotations are connected with Christmas or New Year. Can you work out in which book they appear – and the author of each book?
 
1.  Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.
 
2.  It was on the afternoon of the Christmas Eve, and I was in Mrs. Prothero's garden, waiting for cats, with her son Jim. It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas.
 
3.  Santa Claus lives in the Laughing Valley, where stands the big, rambling castle in which his toys are manufactured. His workmen, selected from the ryls, knooks, pixies and fairies, live with him, and everyone is as busy as can be from one year's end to another.
 
4.  Christmas isn't just a day. It's a frame of mind.
 
5.  I had called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes upon the second morning after Christmas, with the intention of wishing him the compliments of the season. He was lounging upon the sofa in a purple dressing-gown, a pipe-rack within his reach upon the right, and a pile of crumpled morning papers, evidently newly studied, near at hand.
 
6.  Lights were shining from every window, and there was a savory smell of roast goose, for it was New-Year's Eve yes, she remembered that. In a corner, between two houses one of which projected beyond the other, she sank down and huddled herself together. She had drawn her little feet under her, but could not keep off the cold. And she dared not go home, for she had sold no matches.
 
7.  After a meal of turkey sandwiches, crumpets, trifle, and Christmas cake, everyone felt too full and sleepy to do much before bed except sit and watch Percy chase Fred and George all over Gryffindor tower because they'd stolen his prefect badge.
 
8.  What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.
 
9.  This bell is a wonderful symbol of the spirit of Christmas – as am I. Just remember, the true spirit of Christmas lies in your heart.
 
10. I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world!
 
I'll echo the final sentiments of the last quote - and, as it's Christmas, I'll give a PDF copy of one of my books to one lucky person who sends the correct answers by December 25th. Leave a comment below, but don't write the answers in the comment box! Send your answers to me at paulamartinromances(at)gmail(dot)com, with 'Christmas Quiz Answers' in the subject line.  Good luck! 

Rest Harrow


So I'm supposed to offer words of wisdom about writing, but after Friday, I haven't much felt like writing, and what I have been writing isn't appropriate for this blog. So, I'm taking the easy way out. I'm working on a contemporary romance that was inspired by this gorgeous house my kids and I saw. It's an old Victorian mansion built in 1872. Did I tell you it was gorgeous? If I had a few million dollars, I'd buy it in a second. But I don't. So, after letting it percolate in my head for a bit, and trying not to drool too often, I decided it would be the perfect setting for a book. My working title is the house's name, Rest Harrow. In case you're wondering, it's a type of herb. I'm not sure I'm keeping it, but it works for now. Below is the beginning of the book. I decided NOT to start with the setting (any of you who read this blog regularly may remember a post I wrote a few weeks ago about the importance of setting and how I started my other WIP with a description of the weather--I still like it, but I'm going for something different). Let me know what you think.

The lawn mower wouldn’t start. Again. She sighed and wiped a straggly piece of hair off her forehead, blowing it away at the same time. She yanked the starter cord and grunted. Nothing.

“Stupid idiot!” She kicked it. “Ow!”

“Want me to give it a try?”

She shrieked as she grabbed her foot and hopped. Her heart raced, but whether from pain or from fear, she couldn’t tell.

“Jeez, you scared me. Um, can I help you?”

She’d hopped far enough away from the stranger to give herself the illusion of feeling safe. There were enough tools and sharp objects within arms’ reach that she could defend herself if she had to, but as she looked toward the man standing in the doorway of the barn, she really hoped she wouldn’t have to.  A crew cut showed off the chiseled bones in his face and the cleft in his chin. A white T-shirt clung to his body and emphasized bulging biceps, a well-sculpted chest and what she assumed would be “six-pack abs.” Worn jeans clung to well-toned legs. This guy was not only in shape, he was gorgeous. Her heart skipped again, this time from lust, and she blushed.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. I was passing by and heard you yelling. I thought you might need help, although I assumed you were yelling at a person, not a machine.”

He grinned and a single dimple punctuated his cheek. Her face flushed hotter. She hadn’t realized she’d been so loud. And really, if this guy got any hotter, she’d need a shower.

“If you want to beat up the lawn mower for me, I probably wouldn’t object. It’s the most ornery piece of equipment I’ve got. Came with the house. I should just get rid of it and buy a new one.”

“Here, let me give it a try.”

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Never too old to learn

I paid attention last week to an RWA University class on 'Author Intrusion' because Sherry Lewis honed in on one of my not-so-great writing qualities:  When I started writing, I wrote like I was describing a movie, which is omniscent POV. It's been hard to write deep POV.

Sherry said,  "When you write from omniscient point of view, you’re acting as a reporter rather than allowing the characters to tell their own story. That means that you, the author, are is present in every sentence on the page as you report the action that’s taking place. You’re telling, not showing."

Then she gave a solution: write emotional segments in first-person, then transfer to third person. In first person, you have to access the inner perspective of the heroine--her hopes, fears and memories, her backstory. Actions--or non-actions-- are explained and justified from her POV. No more itemizing 'she did this and then did that,' or 'she felt this or that.'


Sherry said, "I do encourage you to write from first person and then edit your scenes until writing from inside the character becomes more natural to you."

I am going to do it. 




Thursday, December 13, 2012

Still At It

I've been working on a second round of revisions on "This Feels Like Home" for a couple of months now. When I first got the e-mail asking for more revisions, I really didn't know what to do. After reviewing the editor's comments (several thousand times or so it seemed) I went at what I thought she was looking for. I made some progress. But the flow didn't seem quite right. So I left the mss alone for a while.

Later I went back to it and got into a little bit of a flow. But nothing was really shouting out at me to really keep working on the project. So I stopped looking at it again.

Recently, I've been back at it. Ideas are flowing, and I'm having those "Aha!" moments even when I'm not sitting in front of my computer. That's a good thing.

In theory.

Trouble is, we're in the middle of the Christmas season. And between work, shopping, Advent services, wrapping, baking cookies, and Christmas cards, I haven't found much time to work on the mss. So what's bumming me out is I feel like I've finally found a direction (I hope) to go in, but I have no darn time to work on it.

I'm almost there. It's almost ready for a read-through. My goal is to have the revisions done and to the editor by the end of the year. TWRP does an end-of-the-year shut down...think back to your school days and Christmas break. With this, I finally caught a lucky break. It reopens January 2, which means I have the whole week after Christmas (because I'm on vacation) to do some final polishing before sending it off (again). All of the shopping, wrapping, baking, etc. will be done, and I can devote my time to this.

It's like a Christmas miracle!

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Debra
www.debrastjohnromance.com


For your holiday reading pleasure:
A Christmas to Remember
Mistletoe and Folly - a FREE read

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Publicity - and its effects?


At the beginning of November, I sent a brief press release to the local freebie newspaper about the publication of my latest novel. Just over a week later, I had a phone call from one of the reporters who asked me a lot of questions about my writing and I gave her my (somewhat rambling!) answers in return. A short email ‘conversation’ followed a couple of hours later and I sent her a photo.
 
The following week, my automatic ‘google alert’ for my name picked up some press releases, and I found the article about me on the newspaper’s website. Okay, that was good - except that I doubt many people actually visit the website. They wait for the freebie paper to be delivered, just as I do.
 
Two more weeks went by, but the article didn’t appear in the printed edition of the paper, which is delivered every week (either Thursday or Friday) to every house in my local area.
 
Oh, hold on, did I say it was delivered every week to every house? Yes, that’s usually the case. I get the paper every week - except for last week.
 
On Friday evening, about 9.30pm, a friend called -“Hey, you’re famous!”
 
“Am I? Why?”
 
You’ve guessed it. The one week I don’t get the paper, the article about me appears!
 
On Saturday, I rush around trying to find a copy (they’re not available in the shops). Daughter’s copy hasn’t arrived, friend who called me is out…I finally tracked one down mid-afternoon.
 
Here it is:
 
The paper goes to about 6,000 homes in the area (hmm, except mine of course, and presumably the others on that particular paperboy’s round!). So let’s say a rough figure of 5K houses (excluding other houses that might have been missed last week.)

'Great publicity!’ everyone says.

Yeah? By now everyone will have dropped the paper into their recycling box.

And the effect on sales? Okay, I didn’t expect millions, but one or two would have been good. Instead - zilch, zero, nada, nothing, not a single download and no queries on my website (the link was at the end of the article).

So much for publicity!

The only slightly positive result was that I took the report into the local independent bookstore on Monday (the one that wasn’t interested when I took my first book in, over a year ago). The owner there agreed to take a couple of copies of my latest book on a sale or return basis. A couple – two books! Not to go on display, you understand but ‘just in case anyone asks for them.’

Now I’m wondering how many people I can bribe to go into the shop and ask for my books!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Anticipation Is The Worst!


I hate research. I hate thinking about it, and I even hate writing about it, which is why I’ve been avoiding this topic for a while now. J To me, research means going to the library, finding unwieldy books, trying to figure out things that make little sense, and then writing about them in ways others will understand. Blech!

But then I sat down and thought about it for a few minutes and I realized something. Research doesn’t have to be that way. There are many ways to go about researching a topic:

  • Library
  • People
  • Photographs
  • Travel
  • Computer
I know my friend and co-blogger, Paula, does a lot of her research for her books by travelling to different places. I’ve been inspired by my travels as well. My uncle has a house on Block Island and whenever I’ve visited him there, I’ve always thought it was the perfect place to set a story. It also happens to be a perfect place to retreat to in order to write.

For one of my books, I had to research what it would be like to be in a wheelchair. For this, I found Yahoo groups and spoke to people who were more than happy to talk to me, despite the awkwardness of some of my questions! For another book, I needed information about make-up artists. Again, a computer group helped me to learn about the types of artists there are and the equipment they use. And the social aspect of this method was a bonus!

I once went to fascinating photography exhibit. The photographer took pictures of abandoned buildings that had been part of Ellis Island at one point. He put them together with information about what immigrants experienced and the result was amazing! Photographs provide insight that some descriptions just can’t convey. When I eventually write the historical novel that’s percolating in my head, I know this exhibit is going to help me tremendously.

I guess what I’ve learned is that whatever method I choose to use, and ultimately, I’ll probably have to use all of them, if I’m interested enough in the topic (which I’d better be if I’m going to write about it in such a way so as to engage my readers), the research may be a lot easier than I anticipate.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Continuing My Education

I like taking writing classes. Through them I have learned about POV, characterization, plot development, powerloading sentences, and many other tricky craft skills I am still mastering.

I am taking an interesting class right now: food writing for historical novelists with Camryn Rhys.
We just had our first homework assignment-- a first-hand account of a real-time food experience. I wrote 512 words about cooking and eating fried eggs and toast.  I had to compose details that showed:  Taste. Touch. Sound. Sight. Scent.

The next assignments will be trickier: incorporating them into my story in a way that "creates an important pause in the emotional arc."

For example, to compose sensory details of taking a shower, I could describe how the water feels--its temperature, the spray, is it slippery soft or hard. The shower stall--walls smooth, shiny hard. How the water tastes; the shampoo tastes--and smells. How it looks and sounds on the shower curtain or door before we enter. Once we are inside, how the water and soap bubbles run off my body and down the walls, down the drain. The scent of the soap. The texture of a washrag. The squeakiness of my hair after I rinse out the shampoo.

Once I have these options, I would pick ones that mesh with the emotions of the scene. Is the heroine distraught over a lost love--the spray could feel like knife cuts. I could describe how she feels through her experiencing the spray. Use the few words of a sensory detail to show how a character is feeling.

Or an essential memory. What if my character as a young child was scrubbed harshly by a mother whose husband had just smacked her around?  What if she remembers playing happily with her younger brother in a tub--and now she'd just learned he drowned?  What if she is in the shower with her lover and he slips on the soap--something she has always feared could happen.

I like writing these evocative details. I can see that I can't just list five or six of them to create the mood of my setting. I need to choose the details that I can link directly to the emotion in the scene.

More good stuff to learn.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Starting something new

Jennifer wrote yesterday about getting ‘stuck’ with her writing, and wondered how to get unstuck. I’ve been in the same situation recently, with a story I seem to have been writing forever. In June, I left it on the backburner while I returned to the story I’d written for NaNoWriMo last year. At least the whole story was there, and although I had to change several scenes and add others, I managed to complete it and submitted it at the beginning of November this year (it’s been accepted, by the way!)
 
In mid-October, once I’d completed that one, I turned my attention back to ‘Different Worlds’, but if you remember my post last week, again I got to the stage where I felt it wasn’t working. Someone read it (as least as far as Chapter 10) and says she loves it, which has given me a little more confidence. But after adding only 25 words one evening, and only about 100 the next, I decided I needed another break from it.
 
But what to do now? My mind went back to an article I’d seen recently about an apartment in Paris which had been unlived in and untouched for over 70 years. The lady who owned it had fled to the south of France on the outbreak of war in 1939, and had never returned. When she died, the apartment was discovered exactly as it had been left, and there was also a link to her grandmother and a 19th century artist.
 
The story stuck in my mind, so last weekend I thought more about it, and the inevitable ‘What if?’ cogs started to turn. As a result, I started to compile a ‘family tree’ linking the grandmother to a 25 year old in 2012. Working out all the dates of the different generations, and also what happened when and why, was complicated, to say the least!
 
I was still thinking of having the setting in Paris, but then realised my recently accepted novel has a Paris setting, so I thought it better to have a change from that. How about the Lake District? No, I’ve already set two novels there (plus the one that isn’t working). Where else then?
 
The answer came easily. Ireland, of course, since I’ve been there so many times during the past few years. Now I had to adapt the family tree, and invent a different kind of backstory, because of course there was no need for the family to flee at the outbreak of war, as Ireland was neutral. The whole thing became somewhat complex, as it also involved the hero’s family history too.
 
On Saturday evening, I wrote over a thousand words (more than I’d added to my other story in more than a week!), then changed the setting from Paris to Ireland, and I’d finished the first chapter (just over 3,000 words) by yesterday evening.
 
The ‘other’ story is still turning over at the back of my mind, but for the moment I’m feeling considerably less ‘unstuck’ than I was at this time last week! 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Getting Unstuck



Owl: I say, are you stuck?
Winnie the Pooh: No, just resting, and thinking, and humming to myself.
Owl: You, sir, are stuck. A wedged bear in a great tightness. In a word, irremovable.
                Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, 1966

I’ve been stuck in a rut with my writing for a while now. Currently, I have one first draft done of a manuscript, which is being critiqued as we speak. I have three other story ideas percolating in my head. One has about 5,000 words written, another has about 7,000 words written, and a third has about 1,000 words written.

The 7,000-word manuscript is the sequel to the manuscript that’s out for critique. I really should work on it, because if I ever get it out to editors, and by some miracle, it gets accepted, I’m going to have to continue the series. I love the series. I love the premise and the uniqueness. I love the characters. I can see the whole series in my head. Getting it down on paper is a different story, however, because try as I might, I’m not inspired by it right now. I think part of the problem is that I’m disappointed by the first story in the series and I need to get that into better shape. Maybe when I finish the second draft, inspiration will strike again. So in the meantime, other than a few sentences here or there, I move onto other stories.

Like the the 5,000-word story. It was inspired by a house. I walked through a gorgeous 1873 Victorian mansion that’s for sale in a nearby town. They had an open house and my daughters and I went for fun. We all fell in love with the place. If I had a few million dollars to play around with, I’d buy it in a heartbeat. In the meantime, I dream about it. And in my dreams, I came up with a great storyline. So I started to write it down. I’m 5,000 words in, and I’m stuck. There are pivotal scenes that I have down and running through my head, but I can’t get past them, even though I’ve written them out—the 5,000 words are not necessarily the first 5,000 words. I know the whole plot, the character arcs, the GMC. I know the who and why and everything! But I can’t get past this one scene in my head and when I sit to write the rest of the story, I get frustrated and walk away. So, I move onto story number three.

Story number three has only 1,000 words. It’s going to take a huge effort to write. It’s a story I’ve always wanted to write because it’s based on my family’s history. It’s got a bit of a mystery in it and I’ve come up with a solution that seems plausible. The problem is, it’s going to take a ton of research. I’m talking library research. College-type research. Just the thought of it exhausts me. So I move back to the first completed draft to work on corrections.

The problem is, that draft needs a lot of corrections. The little stuff is easy. Deleting and changing words, adding commas, all the little stupid things—those are easy. It’s the revising and rewriting and filling in that I keep putting off. I know I need to show more emotion in chapter four and I need to further develop the characters in chapter six. But I’m not sure I can do that. Or that I even want to.

Like I said, I’m stuck in a rut. What I really need is some inspiration. Either that, or a swift kick in the butt.

So tell me, what do you do to get unstuck?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Am I crazy?

My birthday was last Thursday, and all week my husband kept asking how I wanted to celebrate. He was so earnest (a quality that has flowered as he's grown older), I didn't have the heart to tell him my fondest wish was to work on my WIP.
After work, we went out to dinner with our youngest daughter at the new Mexican restaurant. (I live in a small tourist town--new restaurants are big news in the winter.) The food was good and surprisingly authentic. I had a real chile relleno, and the complimentary salsa was loaded with yummy fresh cilantro.
Afterwards, I helped my daughter do the nightly cleanse of her healing (Yay!) breast tumor wound and watched a movie with my husband. It was a nice night, but I sorta wished I was sitting in front of my laptop wrestling with my WIP.
Am I crazy?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Are You a ReReader?

My TBR pile is overflowing. Literally. This is what the area next to my rocking chair in the library looks like.


Not to mention that I've downloaded a bunch of new books to my Kindle. Some of them I'm saving for my cruise in March, but I do want to get to the Christmas ones this season.

So what am I reading? The Twilight series. For like the dozenth time. And I'm not exaggerating. I picked them up after seeing the final movie (twice) when it premiered a couple of weeks ago. I'm almost done with Breaking Dawn. We're not talking short stories here. These are big books, 500, 700, 800 pages plus.


I'm not sure what it is about these books that makes me come back to them time and time (and time) again. Yes, I love vampires. And yes, I have a huge crush on Edward. There are lines and sections of each of the books that I literally have memorized. Yet every time I sit down and read them, I love them.

I've reread other books, too. Probably not as many times as these. But there are books I always come back to. Why is it that with a huge pile of books I've never read before and revisions to do on my own mss waiting for me, I pick up something familiar? I think that must be the ultimate compliment to an author. To enjoy something s/he has written so much that you return to it again and again.

I had a compliment like that once. Last year in a review for A Christmas to Remember the reviewer said it was a book she'd read again. "I know I will keep this and read it over and over again every year." - MDobson, Sizzling Hot Book Reviews.

So, how about you? Are you a rereader? Or is once enough for you?

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Debra
www.debrastjohnromance.com

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

When you feel like giving up ...

I'm about three-quarters of the way through my current story but recently I've become more and more dissatisfied with it. There's something not working, but I can't decide what that 'something' is. On Sunday evening, feeling particularly dispirited, I put the following on my Facebook page:

Do you ever get to the point where you feel like deleting the whole of your 'work in progress' and forgetting you ever thought of this story in the first place? That's where I am right now!

The replies and comments I received were interesting, and I think they’re worth summarising here. If nothing else, they show that other writers experience the same feelings! There's also some very useful advice. I’ve alternated colours to show the comments from different people, and given them in the order they appeared, but have left out my own replies to the comments.

Yes. Every WIP at some point.
Keep going! Keep going!
Hold on there. You're too close to the baby to call it ugly. Go away for a few days and let the characters sink into your subconscious, let them talk to you a little. Come back with a fresh mind and a renewed body too. Funny how rest and lots of REM can salvage a WIP
Sometimes in revisions, I get so sick of these people I wish I'd never created them. But when their story is published, I always love them again! Absence makes the heart grow fonder so take a short holiday from them and see what a difference it makes.
Have you thought of flipping the characters on their ears, giving them an all-new tension that they didn't have before? Tension drives conflict, conflict drives passion, passion drives...oh, you know the drill.
Not just you. And some stories just have magic, heart, crunch you simply can't walk away from. Sometimes all you need to do is wait for the chops to write it or let go of the idea of perfection. The latter is usually what stands in my way. i.e. what I wanted the story to be is not what the story IS.
I’d put that sucker away for a year.
It sounds like you need a long walk and a break and let this story reconvene in your head.
As the saying goes, you can't revise a blank page. I like your idea of going back to the original version, whatever that is. It's undoubtedly the one that made you start writing in the first place. Step back and let the characters tell you their story.
Every time!
Don't do it!
Give it a couple of days and suddenly you'll know.
I have a story I've been writing for about 3 years, keeping getting lost in it. Maybe you need to do what I've done (more than once). Put it right away and begin a completely new one. Your mind will be much fresher when you finally return to this wip, you'll probably see what’s happening to hold you back straight away.
Yes!!!
Dont!!!!!!
Leave it alone for a month. Then you will know what the problem is and be able to fix it!
Just been thru that exact process!
Certainly have. I think I'd follow the  advice to leave it alone for a month. I had one, and kept going. It took three times as long to write.
You're trying too hard! Step back, write a short story and see what happens... Step out of your comfort zone! Pen a scary thriller.
Don't destroy it. Put it on the back burner. Let it lie for a year or so, then go back and see if it is worth saving.
Have you thought about getting some feedback on it from someone?
Let your mind drift to other scenes, other characters . Let this one stew a bit longer. Some of mine have been around for years.
Yes, know that feeling only too well.
I'm feeling that way right now too. I'm working on a novella that's taking me longer to write than a full length book.
Hang in there. Breathe....
Oh yes. You stare at the screen blinking fast, then scratch something till it bleeds--anything rather than just walk away, which is the only thing that works.
* gasp * Oh No! Stop! Don't do it! You will find the way in this story. I have complete faith in you. :)
Keep going, girl
Don't do it. Set it aside and work on something else. I have one coming out soon that I've been messing with off and on since 2009. I finally figured out the issue about a month ago and fixed it. so, it could just need to simmer for YEARS! LOL!
Good luck. I messed with mine between stuff forever and it finally gelled. Yours will.
Yes! But don't do it. Just let it stew for a while and all will work out.
Keep plugging along.
Don't give up on your story. Maybe take a break, then start reading it from the beginning, and I'll bet you find that your story hasn't given up on you.
 
What’s interesting is that while some encourage me to keep going, others say to leave it – for anything from a few days to a few years!
 
I haven’t included the final few comments, when a three way conversation compared the whole writing process either to knitting with fog, or carving granite with a teaspoon, or wading through porridge – and sometimes you feel like you’re doing all three at the same time!
 
Anyway, as a result of all this, someone has offered to read the first few chapters and tell me what she thinks. I’ll wait for her verdict before I decide what to do!
 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Wherever You Go...Is Important!


So as I sit here at my dining room table—a few months ago we talked about where we like to write, and I usually spend my mornings sitting at the dining room table—I’m looking out the French doors at the snow falling. I’m not a big snow person. While I like the actual white stuff, I hate driving in it, and I have this unreasonable dread of school being cancelled. That could be because we went through two weeks of either no school or hardly any school due to Hurricane Irene, just came off a 4-day weekend for Thanksgiving, and I don’t think we’ve had more than three full weeks of school this year, but I digress. I do actually like the look of the snow, once there’s enough of it on the ground to cover all of the grass, and before it turns black from the passing cars.

Anyway, watching the snow fall made me think of the importance of your setting in your story. Action carries you through; characters give you someone to love or hate; but setting? Setting puts the reader in your story. It gives them a chance to visit the place you’re writing about, to travel to an imaginary world. Think about the classic books you read growing up. I was not a fan of Willa Cather or of John Steinbeck—too depressing for me—but they created a South and a mid-West that sticks with me today. My daughter just finished reading a book, Ruined, by Paula Morris, and because of that book, she wants to go to New Orleans. It’s not just travel books that create “place;” it’s novel and romances and westerns and mysteries, too. It’s fiction and settings are important.

I’ve been told that starting out a book with a description of a physical place is not the best hook, and maybe that’s right. But I don’t think it’s a terrible thing to do either. It’s a great way to incorporate many of the senses. If done well, and I’m not saying I’ve necessarily done that, it can put the reader inside the story, can sit them on the shoulder of your character, or in the corner of the room.

Here’s the opening of my WIP, which currently starts with describing the setting. I’m not necessarily going to leave it as the opening. I see the positives and negatives of doing this, and I’m still deciding. But I love the description and had fun writing it.

Samara ducked into the corner grocery store and swiped rain-drenched hair out of her eyes as she looked out at the street. Rain poured onto the Manhattan sidewalk in silver satin sheets. Cars splashed water onto the ankles of passersby with enough force to soak through the pant legs of irritated men and puddle inside the high-heeled shoes of unprepared women caught in the storm. Umbrellas prodded one another for space as people rushed from offices to subways, huddled in doorways and flagged down already full taxis in futile efforts to avoid the rain. Muttered curses at the weather mingled with hoarse apologies as commuters bumped against one another in their hurry to get somewhere—anywhere—dry. But those sounds were muted by the shuck-shuck-shuck of windshield wipers and the squeal of brakes on slippery streets.

The water poured down the front window of the store and blurred the sharp headlights of the passing cars into fuzzy, undulating splotches of yellow that danced before her eyes. She smiled. They reminded her of Shabbat candles. She closed her eyes for a moment and time slipped away. In an instant, she was back in her grandmother’s warm, dry kitchen, her face pressed against a wide, warm bosom. The arms circling her promised safety, security and unconditional love. Her grandmother’s heartbeat thumped against her ear and infused her with calm and confidence. Her cousins chattered and the grownups laughed. China and utensils clinked. It was Friday night; the smell of brisket and challah filled the small, noisy apartment with mouth-watering scents of carrots, onions, garlic and yeast. Her stomach growled and the sound yanked Samara back to the present. She was hungry. With a shake of her head, she reached for a shopping cart and headed down the aisle.

Forgetting for a moment that I wrote this, because I’ll admit, I’m biased, I like detailed descriptions of setting. I want to know where my characters are and why their location is so important. For this character, one of the things this particular setting does is bring her back to her childhood. That serves to tell the reader some important things, one of which is that she’s Jewish. Since the story I’ve written is a romance that takes place around the Jewish holiday of Purim, it’s important the reader knows this. This setting conveys warmth. It also gives the feel of New York City; anyone who’s been there in the rain can probably recognize it.
I don’t know, maybe I’m biased toward my own writing. But regardless of these particular paragraphs, I do feel giving the setting early on, if not immediately, is important. What do you think and how do you do it?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Story Arcs


Aristotle is credited with analyzing the art of story-telling. He defined a story as having a specific beginning, middle and end. When beginning is tied intimately to the end, the story takes on life--a complete being that "lives" because it is written that way.



Since Aristotle, many adaptations of his three-act story structure have been posited.  Shakespeare's plays had six or seven acts because candle wicks needed to be trimmed during performances. Modern filmmakers think in terms of four acts: Act 2 has two parts divided by a midpoint incident.
Novelists, consciously or unconsciously, write in acts punctuated by story events like "plot points," "inciting incident" and "black moment."




A romance's Act 1 sets up the heroine's present situation, defines her current life, her ordinary world. At the inciting incident, something presents a problem or challenge --the loss of a job, return of abusive husband, opportunity to grasp a prize heretofore unobtainable. This propels her directly in the path of her future lover.

At the First Plot Point, about 1/4 into the story, she has to make a major choice. She crosses the Threshold. It is a point of no return. She can't go back to her old life.  Act 2 begins.

During the first half of Act 2, she struggles and fails. Everything she does trying to fix her problems only makes things worse. At the Act 2 midpoint, she realizes she will have to take an ultimate risk, do things she heretofore never dared. She tries harder and harder, and the antagonistic person or force counters her every move. She wins skirmishes and still loses ground.

At Plot Point Two, she faces the reality that she needs to risk everything, even if it means her friends forsake her. Put her life on the line. She sees the potential reward on the opposite bank of the raging river in front of her. She may fail, but not trying to cross is no longer an option. Bruised but wiser, she jumps into Act 3.

In Act 3 things come to a climax. She resolves the issues that have arisen on her journey, first for others, then for herself. The biggest, baddest, hardest problem is resolved last. At the black moment, it appears she has failed. Then she triumphs. She is resurrected. And the story ends with her HEA.

All stories need some version of this story arc to be satisfying. (Think marketable.) Authors often write a first draft then go back and layer in conflict. Other authors pre-plot the main turning points, then write with these intermediate goalposts already in mind. Either way--and there are many permutations in between--is right and good.

The end result is what matters. A story that satisfies our boundless need to share the experience of being human.



Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

The house is clean.

The pie is baked. It's my first attempt ever at homemade pumpkin pie...I hope it turns out okay! (At least my sister's also bringing an apple pie...)


The turkeys and Pilgrims are on display.



And the table is set.


Now all we need to do is wait for the company to arrive!

Happy Thanksgiving! many blessings to you and yours.

Debra
www.debrastjohnromance.com

An Unexpected Blessing - A Thanksgiving novella from The Wild Rose Press
Also available for Kindle.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Do romance stories need a villain?

Last weekend, Ana and I had an email conversation about villains that made me wonder about the role of a villain in romance stories.

In ‘His Leading Lady’, I brought in a character who turned fairly nasty towards the end, which added an extra layer to the story. In both ‘Fragrance of Violets’ and ‘Changing the Future’ I had minor characters who revealed information, one out of malice towards the hero (although not necessarily wanting to split hero and heroine up), the other who did hope to cause problems between them because she had her sights set on the hero. Were they villains? I tend to think of them both as characters who threw a spoke into the wheel and created extra problems as a result. In ‘Her Only Option’, the ‘villain’ of the piece isn’t actually revealed until late in the story, which is part of the mystery of who is behind various threats aimed at the hero and heroine. In my recently submitted ‘Dream of Paris’ it’s the ex-fiancĂ©e who causes problems, again not directly aimed at splitting up the hero and heroine, but certainly causing the heroine a lot of anguish.

I began to wonder whether there needs to be a villain, or at least an antagonist, in romance novels. Although I’ve had characters who’ve caused problems for the hero and heroine, I’m not sure I would call all of them ‘villains’ or even antagonists.

Is it necessary to have a third party who is jealously or maliciously trying to destroy the relationship between the hero and heroine (for whatever reason)? Or can the ‘antagonist’ be the circumstances in which the main characters find themselves, or the events that happen which seem to be beyond their control? Or maybe the ‘villain’ is their own doubt, distrust or uncertainty, either about themselves or about each other?

I’ll be interested to know how you feel about villains - and/or the kind of ‘villain’ you’ve used in your romance stories.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What’s In A Name?


The title of you book is important because it gives the reader her first impression of your story. Do it right and your book title will reflect the type of story you’ve written. It will entice your reader and encourage her to pick your book over the multitude of others out there vying for attention. Do it wrong, and your book title will give your reader the wrong impression of your book or just make the reader think your book is boring.

There are many ways to come up with a title for your book. Sometimes, it’s a phrase from your actual story. Sometimes it’s a literary quote. Sometimes it’s a pun or a play on words.

Rachelle Gardner, an agent with Books and Such Literary Agency, wrote a great blog post in 2010 about how to go about finding the perfect title for your book. You can find that blog here. But some of the suggestions she gives are:
  • Find other books in your genre and study their titles
  • Use visual words
  • Use a thesaurus
  • Make sure your title is different from what’s already out there

When I wrote A Heart of Little Faith, I took the title from something the heroine said to the hero. When I wrote Skin Deep, I picked the title based on the idea of beauty being only skin deep. And for my current work in progress, The Seduction of Esther, well, it kind of just popped into my head—we’ll see if it gets changed if it ever gets published!

How do you pick your titles?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What's your favorite body language tell?


I was searching sites for a body language “tell” yesterday and came across this list by Mack LeMouse in BODY LANGUAGE SIGNS OF LYING.  The science behind these may not be certain, but I thought some ideas here were potentially useful.
A woman ready for more intimate interaction will: (Think Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate.}
Expose her wrists      Expose her neck       Caress her own leg
Fondle a cylindrical object          Open her mouth slightly
Play with her hair       Blink a lot         Slip her shoe on and off
Cross her legs and point them to you (crossing the legs makes women look thinner)
Point her foot at you           “Accidentally' touch you a lot

Males flirt, too. Someone's interested in your girl if…
He points his foot towards her          His pupils dilate
He 'accidentally' touches her a lot    He tucks his fingers in his belt
He puts his hands behind his back, thrusting forward his chest


Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday Friend - Lynette Sofras

Welcome to today's Friday Friend (and my friend), Lynette Sofras.

A former Head of English, Lynette gave up her career in education almost three years ago in order to focus on her writing.  Since then she has published three contemporary romances: The Apple Tree (December 2011), which won the grand prize in Inspired Romance Novels' writing contest; Wishful Thinking (April 2012) and Shopping for Love (June 2012). In Loving Hate (November 2012) is her first romantic suspense and a more speculative psychological drama, Killing Jenna Crane, is due for release next month.

Lynette lives with her family in an early Victorian cottage in a historic village in Surrey. When not writing, she is an avid reader, loves catching with friends, films and the theatre and can occasionally be seen trying to tame her rather wild garden and keeping the family's eccentric cat out of trouble.

Should we like our heroes and heroines?

I reviewed a novel recently which I thoroughly enjoyed reading, but it occurred to me part-way through it that I really couldn't warm to the main character.  This in no way spoiled my enjoyment of the story and nor did it affect my rating, but it did make me wonder whether the writer wanted me to like her or not.  It also got me thinking about whether other readers need to be able to like and empathise with the hero or heroine, especially in romances.

This in turn made me think back over some of the reviews of my stories which criticised the hero or heroine and the readers made their feelings evident in their ratings.  One reader shocked me by accusing one of my heroines - who had been pressured into becoming a doctor and later regretted it and yearned to leave the profession - of being thoroughly selfish for having taken up a place at med school and depriving someone else!  I simply hadn't considered that when I portrayed her unhappiness and dissatisfaction.  My aim was to create sympathy for her situation, not anger.

Another reviewer said one of my heroines "tended to act TSTL for a little", which my son had to translate as meaning "too stupid to live".   I still smile at that.  My heroes too have come in for criticism at times. One was reprimanded for being unintentionally thoughtless in forgetting to mention something to the heroine (which he had dismissed as trivial) and another for going against his own principles after criticising the fault in someone else.  I dread to think what readers will make of the main character of my forthcoming release Killing Jenna Crane - he's a famous and successful author who is decidedly unlikeable - and that's quite deliberate!

Fortunately, however, on the whole, readers seem to connect with my characters and feel they can relate to them and that pleases me enormously.  They hate my villains, which is as it should be, empathise with my heroines and some even develop crushes on my heroes.  One of the sweetest comments I received was from a reader who said: "I want to find my own Nicholas. If I ever find anyone half as decent and loving as that man then I will be a happy woman."

I would love to hear opinions from readers and writers on this subject.  Should we like our heroes and heroines as writers and how important is it for us to like them as readers?

In Loving Hate - released 09 November 2012
Amazon http://amzn.to/RX94m0 
MuseItUp bookstore: http://goo.gl/H55ao)
Blurb:
How far will the rich and powerful go in order to achieve their goals? That is the question Lyssa must decide when she finds herself caught between two formidable adversaries: powerful business tycoon and shipping magnate, Alex Andrakis and close childhood friend, ‘Dynamic’ Nell Winters, brewery heiress and prolific businesswoman.
Following the failure of her marriage in Greece, Lyssa returns to her family home in London, to discover that her mother, a once-celebrated actress, is now facing crippling debts.  When Lyssa begins to investigate these, she becomes embroiled in the intricate business dealings of Nell and her arch-rival Alex.  Irresistibly drawn towards widower Alex and his unhappy young son, Lyssa begins to uncover some unexpected and disturbing facts.
The more involved she becomes, the more shocking are the discoveries she makes.  The conflicts culminate in a frightening battle for survival as Lyssa finds herself the prime target between the possessive Nell and obsessive Alex.   With her loyalties deeply divided, can Lyssa make the right choice for everyone concerned?
Find out more about Lynette at her blog and website:
Thanks so much for being our Friday Friend today, Lyn - and we wish you every success with your all your books. Shopping for Love is definitely my favourite so far, but I haven't read your latest release yet! 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Life Imitating Art

As many posts have shown recently, our writing often is inspired by real-world moments that catch our attention for some reason. But what happens when it works the opposite way? This week a real-life happening occured that was right out of the pages of my new novella, An Unexpected Blessing.

In the story, my heroine, Katy, is a firm believer that Thanksgiving should get its due and be celebrated before any thought of Christmas takes place. Katy is a woman after my own heart. I modeled this part of her character on my own thoughts about the subject.

In one scene, she comes to the door and sees the yard covered in snow. She is not happy. It goes something like this:

One morning Katy opened the door to Joe’s smiling face. Her answering smile faded as she noticed the snow shovel in his hand.
“Why do you have that?” she demanded.
Joe looked down, then his gaze flew to hers. She immediately read the wariness in his eyes, but was so dismayed by what the shovel meant she didn’t take the time to reassure him she wasn’t harboring any thoughts of him doing violence. For the time being, she ignored the sadness slipping through her. She didn’t want Joe to think she was still afraid of him, but at the moment, a more immediate matter occupied her attention.
She peeked over his shoulder and moaned. A light dusting of snow covered the lawn. It sparkled in the sunshine. But she couldn’t appreciate its beauty. “No,” she whined. “It’s only November. It cannot snow.”
Joe raised an eyebrow.
She paused in her tirade to appreciate the effect it had on his face. But only for a brief second. “Snow is for Christmas. Not Thanksgiving. Ugh.”
He chuckled. “Wow. You are really hung up on that, aren’t you?”


In real life it went something like this. I was driving home from a meeting on Monday. A few flurries fluttered through the air. As I got closer to home, a few turned to many, which was extra apparent in the shine of the street lights. I announced my displeasure to my hubby as soon as I walked in the house. By the time I went to bed, some of the snow was starting to stick. In the morning I woke up to this:
Ugh. Ugh. And Ugh.

Luckily, just like in the story, it melted in an hour or so and we were back to the proper ground covering for Fall.

It made me think...if I would have known I was so good at predicting real life with my stories, I would have included something bigger and better. Maybe in my next book my heroine will win the Lottery!

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Debra
www.debrastjohnromance.com



Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Do you eavesdrop?


I try not to be an eavesdropper, but sometimes you can’t avoid it when people are talking loudly in a cafĂ© or coffee shop or on a bus or train. I think the most interesting ‘eavesdrop’ I ever heard was ‘Well, he had to kill her after that, didn’t he?’ I only hope the speaker was talking about a movie or something on TV!
 
Next time you’re with a group of people who are chatting together, take a mental step backwards for a few minutes and listen. The chances are the conversation will include a lot of half sentences or phrases, broken up by pauses or interruptions. Many people will start a sentence, hesitate, and then start again, or go off at a tangent. There’ll probably be plenty of words like ‘erm’ or ‘well’. Grammar rules will be broken. There will be very few ‘long’ words, and maybe some wrong words will be used.
 
We’re told we should write natural sounding dialogue in our stories. However, if we did this, our readers would probably become exasperated because much of it would be jerky, repetitive, even incomprehensible. I’m reminded of a TV mini-series about President Nixon where every so often the characters would reproduce some of the dialogue from the infamous tapes. It was glaringly obvious when they moved from the smooth scripted dialogue to the fragmentary dialogue of the tapes.
 
Writing dialogue as it tends to be used in everyday conversations would be equally as disastrous as having our characters speak to each other as if they were at a public meeting (to paraphrase how Queen Victoria complained about the way Gladstone spoke to her).
 
So how do we write dialogue?
 
The trick is to make the dialogue seem real without actually reproducing everything we normally hear in everyday speech e.g.
 
Omit ‘um’, ‘er’ and ‘well’, unless you specifically need your character to appear hesitant.
 
Use contractions – don’t, couldn’t, can’t etc.
 
Let your characters use short sentences, not long convoluted ones, or speak in phrases. Have them break off mid-sentence occasionally, or interrupt another character (but not all the time – unless that’s one of their bad habits!)
 
Don’t have them making ‘speeches’ (unless they really are making a speech). If they’re describing or explaining something, have the other person interrupt or ask a question, to avoid having any lengthy monologues.
 
Don’t use dialect that might be difficult for a reader to understand. Slip in an odd word to give a flavour of an accent or dialect, but let the reader imagine the rest.
 
Don’t have your characters calling each other by name all the time. Generally speaking, people don’t tend to do that.
 
Don’t turn a casual conversation into a stilted one or, conversely, into one that’s too flowery. I’ve read conversations that sound as if they have been lifted out of a 1930’s movie, and others where the heroine (and sometimes the hero too!) use ornate, fanciful phrases that people would never use in everyday speech.
 
A final tip is to read your characters’ conversations out loud. I can usually ‘hear’ my characters speaking in my mind – but there have been times when, on reading out loud, I’ve winced at what one of them has said, or how they’ve phrased it, and I’ve then changed it to something that hopefully sounds more natural.
 
What other tips do you have for writing dialogue?