Thursday, 27 December 2007
Restoring his family's ancestral home is a huge undertaking for developer Will Roberts, but it comes with the title he's just inherited. As does Josie Harrington-Jones, who manages the tearoom on the premises. A single mother and reformed party girl, Josie has a real knack for the business end of things -- but she also has a few issues, and a secret. Her professional partnership with Will turns personal eventually, but Josie's not sure he's in love with the real her -- and it's a deal-breaker.
Fiona Harper's English Lord, Ordinary Lady (4) has a credible plot and conflict, as well as great characters. More than that, it's warm and funny.
What a lovely late Christmas present!
Wednesday, 19 December 2007
The word limit for Romance is 50,000–55,000 words. This one weighs in just short of 59,000. That means I’ve written about 33,000 words in 14 days! That’s 6000 words today alone and more than 10,000 in the last two days. You may picture me slumped on my desk, whimpering.
And now, within an hour of finishing, the cold that has been tickling my nose for a few days has decided to arrive properly. I may just give up and go to bed. But not for long – I expect revisions will be back on Friday and I have the next two weeks to tidy it up!
The upside is that the title for this book looks as if it's going to be "Christmas Wishes, Mistletoe Kisses". How adorable is that?
Monday, 17 December 2007
Much cosier than Louise's big old mansion on top of the hill, I think.
But where would you rather spend Christmas? In luxury in the mansion, or cosy and basic in the cabin-like boathouse?
Sunday, 9 December 2007
Tuesday, 4 December 2007
This is the point when the hero commits to the adventure completely. Things are going to get uncomfortable for your characters now they have been shoved out of their comfort zones. Why are your characters going to do this? Why haven’t they just refused the call to adventure and stayed home with their feet up? Because to achieve their goals they are going to have to act. They want what they want more than they want a comfortable life. Motivation at this point is key. Make it strong. Make it believable. Make the stakes high.
At the ‘Change of Plans’ your protagonist(s) is going to make a decision that pushes the story in another direction.
Instead of sending Vivian back to Hollywood Boulevard, Edward offers her $3000 to spend the week with him. Why? He has business to do and he needs a companion, but he doesn’t want to get emotionally entangled with anyone, and this causes him to make an unusual decision. Vivian accepts because she needs the money – her goal is to get out of her business and do something more with her life.
You’ve Got Mail:
Fox Books opens. Up until now, Kathleen has been coasting along in her life and living in the past. (Have you noticed that this is what her boyfriend represents – someone who is so fixated on living in the past he sees modern technology as some kind of evil?) Now Kathleen is going to have to look forward and act if she wants to save her shop. She’s not exactly a willing adventurer, but she has no choice; the battle has begun.
I think the turning point here is when Anna finally stops shilly-shallying and asks William if he would like to have dinner with her. Up until this point she’s been sending very mixed signals and, finally, she makes her mind up one way or the other. Her desire to find that special someone has overridden her desire for self-protection and she's willing to take a chance on trying something new - dating an 'ordinary' guy.
Saturday, 1 December 2007
Unfortunately, I was having a bad hair day and had scraped all my curls into a ponytail and I looked like a squirrel in the picture. Eek! Still, it wasn’t as bad as the one on the RNA website of me accepting the NWS trophy! How many chins? And, no, I’m not providing a link to that!
Monday, 26 November 2007
I see this as a kind of in between stage. Vogler’s hero’s journey concept deals with the idea nicely. If you think of old-fashioned fairy tales or myths, there is often an adventure the hero (and by this I mean protagonist, not just the main male character) must go on. Vogler calls the second act the Special World of the adventure – often the hero must journey to a new land to fulfil his quest. In modern-day tales, our protagonists may not be fighting dragons or slaying giants, but they may get pushed out of their comfort zone and find themselves in a new emotional landscape. For many romance stories, the relationship itself is the adventure, and this will be the stage of the story where they’ve met, but they haven’t quite got it together yet.
So, by now our hero has had their “call to adventure” – the trigger/inciting incident to get the story going – but they haven’t yet committed to it fully. Our protagonist may refuse the call briefly, even if it is only a few moment’s hesitation, or higher stakes may push the hero into acting when maybe he’d rather not. Sometimes preparations need to be made – the hero may need to acquire new skills to embark upon his quest.
Edward and Vivian have met. She helps him get to his hotel and he almost goes inside and leaves her waiting for the bus – but he doesn’t. Something about her zest for life intrigues him, and he invites her inside for the night. Time after time in the next few hours she defies his expectations, and this pushes him into doing something unusual when the time comes to pack her off back to where she came from…
In a sense, the second act of this story is the length of the contract between Edward and Vivian ($3000 for one week) – this is the ‘Special World’ of this story. You couldn’t just jump from Edward picking her up in the car to immediately asking her to stay the week. Something more has to happen to push him into that unusual decision; it has to be set up.
And this is what this phase of the story is about, moving things into position so the hero and heroine can cross the threshold into the second act and get the adventure (in this case, the romance) going!
Anna gets cleaned up at William’s house and, just as she leaves, she kisses him, and he is dumbfounded. Then they play a game of cat and mouse for a while. She leaves a message; he doesn’t get it – and when he does he gets sucked into the publicity machine for her new movie.
It’s Anna who controls where the story goes at the moment. William wants to pursue the connection (of course!), but Anna is wary. At first it seems she is just going to make sure he is ‘okay’ about the kiss and then dismiss him but, after he is adorably flustered doing a fake interview, she changes her mind. Up until the end of the first act, they are dancing around each other and the audience is not sure whether a romance is going to get going or not.
You’ve Got Mail:
This is an interesting one. Kathleen has just discovered that Fox Books are opening a store in her neighbourhood and right after that, she and Joe meet in real life, without knowing that they are online sweethearts – and there’s a connection.
Norah Ephron does a marvellous job of setting up everything in this script! I see the adventure, the ‘special world’ of this story as being the fight between Kathleen’s true-hearted little store and the Fox books Goliath. And, before the battle gets going, the writers set everything up for maximum conflict.
Not only are Kathleen and Joe getting on well in cyberspace, but there’s a spark in real life too – what a pity that they’re going to become mortal enemies in a matter of days! Having them meet before the conflict gets going raises the stakes and makes the audience sigh for what they know can never be! Now, that’s good writing.
So, in this section of the story, you have to decide how your characters are going to respond to the story trigger, their call to adventure. Will they embrace it or reject it? And what needs to happen so that, when they embark on their adventure, all the necessary pieces are in place?
Wednesday, 21 November 2007
This is the part of the story where things start to get juicy! Your main character is wandering around in their ordinary world, doing their thing, and – BAM! – something happens that is going to change the course of their life!
Depending on which book on writing you read, this crucial story moment might be called any of the following:
- Call to adventure (Christopher Vogler)
- Inciting Incident (Robert McKee)
I say ‘crucial’, because without this element, your characters would just keep wandering around doing ordinary things. Even if your character has a so-called exciting life, if nothing actually happens, your reader is going be nodding off very shortly.
They may not know it yet, but how they respond to whatever happens may determine their future happiness. Your character may receive some news, or meet someone. They may lose something and need to find it again or an event may happen in their community. It even can be a stirring deep within your character that makes them make a change in their own life. What exactly happens will depend on each individual story.
In a romantic story, the event that often sets the story in motion is the first meeting between the hero and heroine, although not always…
- In Notting Hill, it’s the moment when Anna walks into William’s bookshop. Her celebrity life has just intersected with his ‘ordinary’ one. Funnily enough, this event almost isn’t enough to get the story started. Their paths cross, they go their separate ways and, but for William spilling OJ down Anna’s front a few minutes later, they probably never would have met again. But, I doubt that Anna would have agreed to go to William’s flat to change if she hadn’t met him in the bookshop earlier, so I think that first meeting was the story trigger. Thinking of it as a "call to adventure", it's as if they both chicken out a bit the first time and fate needs to give them a helping hand - a second chance.
- In Pretty Woman, the story trigger is the moment Edward gets lost on Sunset Strip and stops to ask Vivian directions.
- Interestingly enough, in You’ve Got Mail, Kathleen and Joe have already met – online, so this can’t be the story trigger. I actually think it’s the moment when Fox Books reveal they are going to open a store in Kathleen’s neighbourhood. This event is ultimately going to cause the main characters’ internet lives to clash with their ‘real’ lives. It also raises an interesting question. The audience knows the identity of Kathleen and Joe, even if they don’t, and at this point, they wonder: “Will she ever be able to love him if he puts her out of business?”
Asking a big question is the main job of this turning point. It asks the central story question to which the climax (turning point 5) will be the answer. “Can a ruthless businessman find warmth and love with a cheap prostitute?” “Can a movie star and an ordinary guy have a long-lasting relationship?”
According to Michael Hauge, it’s hard to start a movie with this kind of turning point, but not so in a novel. Some novels work best when the inciting incident occurs right there on page one! Sometimes it needs a bit more setting up than that, but the idea is to not dawdle about at this point. Get the story started and hook that reader in!
Sunday, 18 November 2007
Mills & Boon are running a promotion with QS clothing shops. Customers who spend £15 will get a free book - either Blind-Date Marriage or Breakfast at Giovanni's by Kate Hardy. Not only that but there will be a coupon for £2 off any other M&B series book redeemable at W H Smiths.
So, get on down to QS and treat yourself! They have over 200 shops nationwide and you can find your nearest one here.
Friday, 16 November 2007
Monday, 12 November 2007
In Joseph Vogler's Hero's Journey, this stage is called the Ordinary World. We see the protagonist as they are before the journey they are about to embark upon changes them. This is the place where we have to introduce our hero and heroine and create sympathy for them and curiosity about them. Now, according to Mr MIchael Hauge, in a movie, this should take about the first 10% of the screen time. In a novel, however, there is more room to play. Sometimes there is not set-up at all and we meet the hero at the first turning point. It all depends on the requirements of the story. In fact, just about any of these structural elements depend what may fit your story; there are no hard and fast rules - only what works.
The main thing to avoid is stretching this section out by dumping in backstory, or including events that do nothing to move the story forward. If anything, as novelists, we can be guilty of setting up a little too much. Another trap to avoid is to have lots of scenes showing who your main character is before anything really happens. Show only what the reader needs to know and get the story started as soon as possible. The best way for the reader to find out what your characters are like is to give them something to do! Make them face problems, test their limits.
Lovely scenes that sketch out your character are nice, but if you do too much of that in the set-up phase, your reader is going to turn the light off and go to sleep. Not good. The Set-up is where you want to hook your reader. Right from the first page. Right from the first paragraph. From the first sentence, if at all possible. Just because this is the world that is "ordinary" to your characters, does not mean it should be dull! Top-selling M&B Romance author Liz Fielding has a great article on her website about opening scenes. Go and check it out.
I'm struggling with the opening sentence of my wip at the moment. It started of as, "Louise wasn't looking at the man sat opposite her—the one voted "Hollywood’s Hottest Hunk" in some stupid magazine poll only last week. " Presently it is: "Most women would have given at least one kidney to be in Louise’s shoes—both literally and figuratively."
Who knows what it will end up as. But the point is this: ask a question with your very first sentence if you can. Maybe my first effort raises a more interesting question: if you were sat opposite a drop-dead gorgeous movie star, would you be staring at your cutlery? Of course not! So why is Louise not gazing into his eyes and drooling? Your first sentence question may not be the main story question (although extra points if it's related somehow) but even a little question that gets the reader to keep going until you can hit them with an even bigger, juicier question is good.
I've decided to look at a few well-known movies for examples (because more of us have seen the same movies than read the same books) to see how this story structure stuff hangs together:
- Notting Hill - as the credits roll, we see Anna's 'ordinary' life as a movie star. (It may not be ordinary to you and me, but it's her ordinary life.) And shortly afterwards, we meet William, an average guy living in Notting Hill and running a failing bookshop.
- Pretty Woman - Edward is a cold, ruthless business man who cares only about the bottom line. Vivian is a cheap hooker with dreams of bettering herself and is struggling to pay the rent.
- You've Got Mail - Kathleen is the owner of a small bookstore and has a pretentious boyfriend. However, online she is ‘shopgirl’ and she is having an internet romance with ‘NY152’. Since they don’t talk about personal details, she can’t know that he is Joe Fox and that his family owns a chain of book megastores.
So, after all that, a little challenge! Julie Cohen did a first page challenge a while ago where she asked people to post the first few paragraphs of a book/work-in-progress; I'm doing a first sentence challenge. Either post your sentence on your blog and provide a link, or use the comments section here. Go on, hit me with your best shot!
Wednesday, 7 November 2007
Wednesday, 31 October 2007
"I guess my question is what surprises you when you actually start to write the story? What you planned isn't always what happens. So surprises?"
I still totally surprise myself when I'm writing. For me, my plot board is a bit like a journey plan, a route map. I know my starting point. I know my destination (Happy Ever After!). And I know some of the major landmarks (events) and changes of direction along the way (turning points).
You can plan a route in great detail, but it's not until you actually drive that road that you really know what it feels like to be there - what the scenery is like, what little details you will find that you can never discover until you are there in person.
A couple of years ago, my family and I drove from Inverness in Scotland, to the Isle of Skye. We knew we had to go down the side of Loch Ness, take a right at such-and-such a town and keep going along the yellow line on the map until we got to the bridge that took us onto Skye. Part of the route looked something like this (click here to see map). Not very exciting, is it? I'd stick the picture in, but the map is copyrighted, so only the link.
What I discovered along the way were sights like these:
And I also experienced wind that was so cold it felt like knives on my skin, that made the inside of my ears burn when I got back into the warm. We saw deer running over the hillside and watched the winter sun turn dull patches of hillside the most wonderful golds and browns and mossy greens.
Thankfully, writing is about the journey, not about getting to the destination in the shortest amount of time. If it were, every romance book would be only three sentences long, starting with: "Boy meets girl..."
So, when I get into my character's skins and take a journey with them, unexpected things happen. Where I thought I would have a long, straight uncomplicated run, I suddenly find a road block and have to take a detour. Sometimes I discover that the road I thought was the right way is actually taking me in the wrong direction and I have to scrap the map and start again. Other times, the road is just dull, but I glimpse a much a much prettier/dramatic/dangerous route nearby. Some landmarks are worth lingering over, and some are just a blur as I pass them by to visit somewhere that I thought looked dull, but have just realised has become vitally important.
Quite often, the surprises are in the details. The little things that add richness and texture to the book. In "Her Parenthood Assignment", I had no idea Gaby was going to give herself a makeover after she found a video of Luke's dead wife. I knew she was going to feel threatened by the dead wife's memory and I had a little card on my plot board that said: "Gaby finds a home movie of Luke's wife?". That was one of those little detours that suddenly became essential.Another example of a surprise is in "Break Up to Make Up". I knew Adele and Nick were going to take a journey together in a car that Adele had bought since their split. And I knew that Nick was going to have a fit that she'd sold his beloved jeep, but I didn't know that Adele was going to enjoy being the naughty one, just for once. I giggled with Adele as she waited for Nick to realise...
In my next book "English Lord, Ordinary Lady", I didn't know Josie's wig was going to fall in the soup... And that's all I'm going to say about that! You'll just have to buy it in February to find out more.
Really, my board is just a way of getting all the myriad ideas about the book out of my head (where they are whizzing at great speed and liable to get lost) and tuen them into something visual. I'm a very visual person, so I need to be able to picture things to remember them most of the time. Tell me your name, I'll forget it. But if I see it on a name badge, I'll keep that little memory snapshot with me for much longer.
Sunday, 28 October 2007
Since I've been reading "Story" by Robert McKee and listening to sessions from this year's RWA conference by script-consultant Michael Hauge, I've decided to do something a little more sophisticated (and flexible) than my normal method of pinning on 20 cards with the major plot points of the story. This book, my plot board is all about story structure.
I've clocked up a fair number of "How to.." books on writing in the last few years and, while they all have different terms for the necessary building blocks for a story, there are certain key elements that pop up again and again and I thought I would blog about these as I finish honing the shape of Louise and Ben's story.
I've decided to use Michael Hauge's method of six phases of the story, with 5 turning points (TPs) as transistions from one to the next. Not as many things to remember as Vogler's Hero's Journey and a little more detail than the classic three-act structure.
The whole thing divides up as follows:
- Set-up (ending with TP1 - Opportunity)
- New Situation (ending with TP2 - Change of Plans)
- Progress (ending with TP3 - Point of No Return)
- Complications and Higher Stakes (ending with TP4 - Major Set-back)
- Final push (ending with TP5 - Climax)
Friday, 19 October 2007
Saturday, 13 October 2007
So, if you want to pop on over to my website, you can read an excerpt from Josie and Will's story. It's a complete romp and I had a blast writing it.
Here's the blurb:
Wedding at Elmhurst Hall
Will Radcliffe is the perfect English lord. He's handsome and honourable, but a stickler for convention. And he's just inherited Elmhurst Hall...
Josie has never followed the rules. Rebelling against her stuffy, controlled upbringing, she's like a breath of fresh air through the corridors of the grand tately home...
But her new boss, Will, thinks she's trouble!Then one moonlit night Will and Josie share a kiss which, for a moment, makes them feel not so very different after all...
Thursday, 11 October 2007
I’ve been listening to my CDs of this year’s RWA conference. Rather than picking and choosing and forgetting what I’ve listened to, I just decided to start with CD 1, track 1 and go from there. Well, I’m currently listening to “Tricks of the Trade: Insider Secrets To Getting Published” with Sophia Nash and Kathryn Caskie. They asked different successful authors what their top tips were.
The topic of the dreaded internal editor came up (see previous post!) and there were some great nuggets of wisdom.
“You can’t fix a blank page.” - Nora Roberts.
So true. So true. But the blank page can stare me down and make me run from my computer.
“Give yourself permission to be a bad writer. You’ll feel the click, the joy, when you imagination takes hold…” – Eloisa James.
Also true. But this is very hard for a perfectionist like me. It's a bit like giving myself permission to walk naked in public.
And from the workshop leaders:
“Turn off your internal editor and just write. It will come. Out pace your internal critic…”
Hold on a second! This, I like! As well as being a perfectionist I can also be just a teensy competitive. If I can’t shut her up, I’ll just out run her! I can see myself now, sprinting ahead, checking over my shoulder every now and then. Maybe blowing a raspberry or two…
Scene 2, here I come!
Tuesday, 9 October 2007
This is the point where my internal editor screams the loudest. What if you can't do it? she whispers. What if all those lovely, rich ideas in your head come out all grey and lifeless on the page? What if this story isn't going to be all you want it to be?
That's the crux of the matter, right there. It's not fear about what my editor would think, or even what readers might think; it's all about measuring up to this strange, nebulous 'feeling' I have about the story. Can I capture it and pin it on the page in black and white characters?
I need to give myself permission to write a duff first scene, don't I? Or even if it's not duff, a less than perfect first scene. Okay, here goes...watch out for a new word count ticker tomorrow!
Wednesday, 3 October 2007
And, as if by magic, my proofs arrived. It's like they know when it's the worst time to turn up. Having said that, I'm quite enjoying reading Fern & Josh's story back ("Saying Yes to the Millionaire"). My editor seems to be very pleased with it, so we will just have to see how it does next June when it comes out.
Sunday, 30 September 2007
Philanthropic Muse's Mansion
Find YOUR Dream Home!
I love the idea of having my own ballroom with a sulking corner for those that have been scorned - probably because they have acted inappropriately after having been dazzled by my wild and uncomprmising beauty (Fiona falls about laughing). and how about having my and my own romance library and a maze! I'm currently fascinated by mazes and I'm considering using one somehow in an upcoming book. Not sure about the doberman, though. Can't I have a cat instead?
The on-site choclatier is very tempting, but I'm not sure my waistline could take the damage! I hope there's a state of the art gym in there somewhere...
Saturday, 22 September 2007
First event of the day was the AMBA (Association of Mills & Boon Authors) Lunch. It's an annual event where we get a chance to meet, catch up on news and find out a little bit more about what's going on at HM&B. This year we had guests from the marketing department and I came away from the Q&A session realising that I need to get over some of my technophobia and do a few more things online. My absolute favourite bit of the lunch was meeting Donna Alward, my fellow M&B Romance author from Canada! I cyber-met Donna on the eHarlequin messageboards back in 2004 before either of us were published, so it was great to finally see her in person. (Here's a picture of Trish Wylie, me and Donna at the lunch.)
Afterwards a group of us headed off to Selfridges for tea. As if there wasn't enough drama to be had that day, we passed the Hitlon and found one of the side roads blocked off with police tape. A little more observation revealed a broken window up on the 17th floor and a whole host of firemen climbing onto the flat roof. Let's just say someone hadn't had such a happy day as the rest of us. A local man spotted us staring upwards and informed us that the firemen had put a net out to catch the guy that had jumped. I'm glad to say that I didn't find out until I read a news report about it the next day that he hadn't survived. Even so, we walked the rest of the way to Selfridges in a more sombre mood.
It's lovely to celebrate each other's achievements and both Kate Hardy and Mary Nicholls received their pins for producing 25 books, and Kate Walker celebrated her 50th title! I would have posted photos of that too, but I was waayyyy at the back of the room (eating canapes) and I couldn't see a thing!
Too soon it was all over, but we were destined for more chat and good food. A group of us all went out to Brown's for dinner and had a whale of a time. Kate Walker has managed to come up with a collective noun for a group of romance writers. She even has the photographic evidence to prove it (although I'm told she's saving it for blackmailing purposes). A gaggle? A quill? Nope. If you want the answer you'll just have to head on over to her blog and read it for yourself!
I'm not doing labels for this one. The culprits know who they are!
Monday, 17 September 2007
I ordered the RWA conference CDs and they arrived in the post a couple of weeks ago. I decided not to pick and choose, but just to listen to each disc all the way through. You can now find me hooked up to my MP3 player when I’m driving, walking to work and even in the gym. I’m learning loads. I only managed to attend about four workshops during the week, so there is tons of good stuff I missed.
Anyway, I was on the train the other day and I was listening to Jo Beverley’s workshop on “Getting Started: Books and Beginnings”. She was analysing good opening passages (first two hundred words) and seeing why they worked and, as she was nearing the end of the workshop, I got a bit of a shock. I heard “Blind-Date Marriage” and “Fiona Harper” and then she started reading the first page out! I stared at my MP3 player in such shock that the girl opposite me on the train started giving me funny looks.
Not only was it cool to have a bit of one of my books used for the workshop, but I got a laugh too! Just at the bit about Serena having “too many teeth” (see my website for an excerpt). Us writers hardly ever get to experience that immediate kind of reaction to our work, so I was doubly chuffed that one of the humorous lines actually made some attendees crack up. God bless those ladies!
Saturday, 15 September 2007
As part of the celebrations they are having a treasure hunt and today it's my turn to give that cute little dancing heart guy a present, so I'm handing over a huge box of Thornton's cappuccino truffles (only a few are missing, honest!). It's an entirely selfish present. I'm hoping he's gonna get too stuffed to eat them all and I'm just gonna have to help...
Saturday, 18 August 2007
Today I did some workshops. First was Jane Porter’s “Ultimate Characterisation: the Alpha Hero and the Unforgettable Heroine”. Absolutely fab. I tend to write my heroes a little too nice sometimes and I got some really good insight into how to toughen my men up a little. I grew up with sisters and went to an all girls’ school, then studied dance (mainly girls at collage, again!). It was great to get a woman’s perspective on the male brain.
I hobbled into the awards luncheon and couldn’t find anyone I knew. I was starting to get tired of being on my best behaviour and introducing myself constantly. I also couldn’t even look at half the food, lovely though it was. My stomach was still full up from the last few days.
The afternoon brought the Mills & Boon Authors’ get together, which I ducked in and out of to attend the rehearsal ceremony for the awards ceremony that evening (gulp!). The pain in my side meant I found it really difficult to get up the steps onto the stage to say my name into the microphone for the sound check, and it was extremely odd seeing a four-foot high version of my face and my book cover projected onto the screen at the back of the stage. People kept asking me whether I was getting nervous and I truly was, although I was doing my best to stay in a state of denial.
I’d got to the point where I just couldn’t concentrate and only managed ten minutes of my final workshop before I gave up. Thank goodness for the CDs! I’m eagerly looking forward to their arrival. My husband was so sweet. He was at a party with the girls and kept sending me text messages from different friends all cheering me on and passing good luck messages on from friends and family. I was ready to cry at least three times.
After chatting with Jenna and Trish I went back to my room to get ready for the evening. Now the jitters really were hitting me with full force. And to make it worse I was late meeting my editor in the lobby because I couldn’t get a lift. They were all full of people making their way downstairs to the ballroom.
The rest of the evening was a bit surreal. Sometimes, when I’ve been waiting for an event for a long time, when the moment comes, something in my brain refuses to believe it’s actually happening. It happened on my wedding day. I was the calmest bride in the universe ever. Inside, I was thinking, ‘I can’t really be getting married today, can I?’ Much the same happened during the RITA and Golden Heart ceremony. The adrenaline disappeared and I just kind of sat there. And when my categories came up, I held my breath, then let it out again. I was in a strange kind of limbo. Actually, I think an adrenaline surge would have been better.
So that’s it. My week in Dallas. Didn’t come home with a statue, but I came home with a bunch full of great memories and some lovely new friends. Jenna and I decided we were ‘transatlantic twins’ as we look freakily similar and even laugh the same. Trish will always have a special place in my heart for being bold and sassy and unbearable funny. And then there were all the lovely people I met: Marion Lennox, Melissa McClone, Teresa Southwick, Sandra Marton, Olivia Gates, Jennie Lucas, Carol Grace all the people from eHarlequin – especially fortworthmom, she’s a one-woman dynamo! I know I’ve forgotten loads of people, but I’ve always said I’m awful with names.
As for the elusive little gold lady…I’m just gonna have to roll up my sleeves and write some better stories!
Sunday, 12 August 2007
Back to my adventures on the other side of the Atlantic…
After lunch on Friday I checked with the concierge to see if any progress had been made with my dress. She’d had it sent out to a dry-cleaners and said it would be back by six. Fingers crossed.
Next stop was the Rita and Golden Heart reception. I had no idea what was going to happen, but it turned out that all the finalists received certificates for their nominations. I found Marion Lennox and we were very glad to see someone we knew. It became clear as the names were read out that some people were well known in the RWA and others not so much as a few people got humongous cheers. Marion and I set up our own cheering section (for each other) at the back to compensate for the fact that we didn’t know anybody and nobody knew us. One of the things I love about the romance writing community is how supportive we are of each other.
After that I tried to sneak into a Michael Hague workshop but realised that having missed the first hour, I hadn’t a clue what he was talking about and decided to listen to the CDs when I got home to get the full benefit.
I had a quick drink and meeting with my editor before she had to rush off to a dinner for the Presents/Modern Romance authors. She asked the dreaded, “how’s the book going” question. I promised her it would be in on time, despite the fact I knew I was going to have to work my butt off to get it done. (I did it though!)
Now, back to the dress. It did indeed arrive back at my room just after six with a new zip in place, but...in the process of installing the new zip, they’d had to take in by a centimetre or two. Since I’d been dieting madly to fit my substantial…erm,…assets, into the dress, let’s just say that I could get it on and do the zip up, but breathing was optional. Sniff. I will just have to hope I gat another chance to wear it.
Then it was off to the Harlequin Party at the Fairmont Hotel. The ballroom was lovely and there were great towering stands filled with canapés and desserts. How I managed to completely miss the chocolate fountain I will never know! Now, I’ve only been to one and other party hosted by my publisher and it was a completely different sort of animal. Lovely, but different. The London, Mills & Boon drinks party last year was held in an exclusive gentleman’s club and the champagne flowed as we stood around and chatted.
The Harlequin party had dancing! Now, I don’t know what it’s like the world over, but in England, at social occasions with a bar and a dancefloor, lots of visits to the former tend to lead to funky moves on the other. You know what it’s like: you go to a wedding or a party and when the music starts the only people to inhabit the dance floor for the first hour are a couple of ten-year-old girls, seriously intent on showing off their best moves, and somebody’s uncle who had a head start the beer. People need time to warm up, to let go of their inhibitions.
Not so at a Harlequin party. The minute the first song started I was practically dragged onto the dance floor by fellow Romance author Melissa McClone. Don’t get me wrong, I was overjoyed. I love dancing and it was fantastic to see a whole room full of people ‘get on down’, not because they’d had too many shandys, but because they just wanted to enjoy themselves.
I had a ball! In fact, a little too much good fun. I even joined in a conga that had to have had about a hundred people in it (to the Miami Sound Machine track, not the Black Lace one, thank goodness). And there was I, wiggling to those catchy Latin rhythms when something in my side went ‘pop’. I kid you not. I still managed to dance the night away. In fact, Trish and I had to be almost dragged off the dance floor and pushed into the stretch limo that took us home. It seriously was the best party I’d been to in years. Wanna go next year!
Friday, 3 August 2007
Sunday, 29 July 2007
And, as usual, it has shot right over the word count. 57,000 plus! That's almost 30,000 words in 12 days. I feel faint just thinking about it. Now I just need to polish it up and get it nice and shiny for my editor.
I've also discovered that crying while I dictate messes with the voice recogniton software's head.
Back to our normal programming shortly...
Thursday, 26 July 2007
While I'm letting the next scene of the work-in-progress brew I'm going to carry on with my adventures in Dallas.
I think I was finally starting to get over the jetlag on Thursday and so woke up after a good six hours sleep, very refreshed. The sun was shining, the day was going to be fun and exciting and I had to go and ruin it with a ‘Bridget Jones’ moment.
Because I was up early, I decided to try on the two dresses that were in he running for the Harlequin party that night. Dress one: strapless, formal, but very pretty. Dress two: less formal, more comfortable. I had been dieting hard to fit into ‘dress one’, but I was worried it was going to be a little bit too posh for the Harlequin party. It was a gorgeous Monsoon dress I bought on eBay that had black silk chiffon over the top of an emerald green underskirt. (See picture: pretty, right? I cut my head off because I had that lovely 6 a.m. look.)
It went on all right, but getting it off again it was another matter – the zip broke! So, and there was I, six-thirty in the morning and stuck in an evening gown. I was going to look pretty daft wandering around in it all day...
Eventually, I managed to wiggle out of it and I tried to get to the zip to behave. The problem: one of those little plastic loops hadn't joined up where it was supposed to and it just wouldn't come down again. In the process of trying to get it to budge, I broke it completely. Guess my decision was made for me... or maybe not.
After refuelling, namely, breakfast—yummy coffee, yummy muffins, yummy fresh fruit—I asked the concierge if there was anyone who could look at my dress and see if they could fix the zip. She said she would see what she could do.
At 8:30 a.m. I was bright and sparkly in sitting in the front row of "Creating Your Stories Backbone: Unleashing the Unexpected Power of Turning Points in Plots and Subplots" with Robin Perini. I fell in love with this woman. My love of charts and diagrams may be huge, but with her, it is practically an obsession. I think a couple of "pantsers’ (as in, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writers) were tempted to run from the room screaming until they realised this approach could work for them too (they just had to ignore the charts; it made them itchy). Little nuggets of wisdom I obtained from this workshop were:
- Turning Points in the plot should be a surprise for the main character as well as the reader.
- The quick and dirty way to figure out your theme: the epiphany of your protagonist is the theme of your book. What do they need to learn?
- Discover your protagonist's flaw, a need, belief of fear that is keeping them from being the best they can be, and make sure that you're turning points test of this character flaw. For example, if your character has a need to keep the people she loves safe, let to those same people get into danger. Even better, let your character's actions put the people she loves in danger, let her failed to protect them. That's going to move her out of her comfort zone pretty quick!
After this workshop I nipped into the Harlequin Spotlight to get an idea of what's new and happening in the huge variety of lines that Harlequin publish.
And then it was time for, you guessed it, yet more food! The lovely hosts of the eHarlequin had invited some of the authors that regularly post and participate out to lunch at the Antares Restaurant at the top of the reunion tower (that's right, a restaurant in the ball on top of the stick in the picture!). The restaurant slowly revolves as you eat your lunch. Great for getting a good view of the city, not so great if you go to the ladies and then discover when you come down the stairs again that your table is definitely not where you left it. I'd just got over another inner ear infection, which often gave me the sense I was moving when I wasn't, and I kept having little relapses during the conference week. At least in the restaurant here, when I thought I was moving I actually was! It was quite a relief.
eHarlequin hosts, Jayne, Lorie, Wayne and Rae with Harlquin authors, Wayne Jordan (he does both!), Kira Sinclair, Olivia Gates, Fiona Harper, Trish Wylie and Michelle Willingham.
Sunday, 22 July 2007
I grabbed my handbag (I know you are supposed to leave stuff like that behind, but it was right near the bed and I didn't want to be stranded with a frazzled passport) and went out into the hallway where there was a strong smell of burning - like an electrical, burnt-plastic kind of smell. A security guard appeared and informed the bemused guests that it was all under control, it was only a short-circuited wire in the exit stairwell, and we could go back to our rooms.
I did so, but the alarm continued to sound for at least another five minutes. I started to get worried again and poked my head into the corridor, where I found a few more people with furrowed brows, cleary wondering (as I was) whether they should just find the nearest emergency exit anyway. As we discussed our options we decided that, as writers, the continuing alarm was bad news. Our what if engines whirred into life - What if the problem had spread? What if there was another fire somwhere else and the alarm had nothing to do with the tiny smouldering wire in the stairwell? You get the picture...
My imaginiation doesn't need much encouragement to run away with itself. Most of the time it's halfway there and straining at the brakes anyway. Eventually, the large, gruff-voiced security man (think Men In Black) reappeared and told us it was fine to go back into our rooms. The alarm would stop as soon as the smoke had cleared in the stairwell. I went back to my room, but kept my handbag right next to the bed, just in case. A few minutes later the arm stopped. Phew. Then I just had to wait for the adrenaline to wear off so I could go to sleep.
Oh, and by the way, have you noticed how fast my word counter thingy is going up at the moment? This story is so rollercoasting towards the end. Just hope I haven't jinxed it by saying that...Well, I haven't, because I don't believe in jinxes. Back to the work in progress...
Friday, 20 July 2007
Eventaully, Trish and Jenna found me. Apparantly darling Trish had been worried that I was on my own, but found me gassing away. I saw Jenna first and did a big wave and shouted “Jenna!” At which point she took a photograh. I chased her (I mean really chased her) but she wouldn’t let me have a look, and the next day I found myself guest-starring on the PHS blog as a caption competition. Thanks for that! My personal favourite from the suggestions was, “Waiter, ten more G&Ts over here, please!” Has someone been spying on me? How did they know?
At first we all felt a bit daft standing there in our PJs, but pretty soon we were saying “hi” to people we’d cyber-bumped into on eHarlequin. It was a fun night. A lady turned up in leopard-print carrying her own personal, inflatable Tarzan! Seeing as there aren’t too many Y chromosomes at an RWA conference, the poor guy almost got popped. Talking of men at the conference, I did see one quite good-looking one at breakfast that morning being trailed around by his other half. She had him firmly by the hand and a look on her face saying, “Back off, sugar! This one’s mine!” It made me smile.
The huge advantage of attending a pyjama party is that, when midnight rolls around, all you have to do is…no, I do not mean “turn into a pumpkin”…I mean, you can flop into bed without having to get changed. Cool!
Thursday, 19 July 2007
Trish and Jenna let me store my case in their room until I could check in. Then I ran downstairs and attended my first workshop: "Yes, You Can Quit Your Day Job." Now, I quite like my day job, but I am definitely struggling to keep all the different pieces of my life afloat at the moment – work, writing, family, housework (yuck). I've been getting so stressed and I think something, somewhere has got to give. I haven't made any decisions yet. I just know I want to stop feeling like a little hamster on a wheel 24 hours a day. This workshop was food for thought.
For the next two hours I joined in a focus group for Mills and Booth and authors, chatting about various subjects from non-fiction to marketing. And once again, food was on offer. I'd had a huge breakfast at the Adams Mark (including some of that lovely Applewood smoked bacon – mmmm) but I couldn't resist having a muffin and some coffee.
Unfortunately, I missed the luncheon that day because I had been invited to a Harlequin Romance authors' tea party. I was really looking forward to putting faces to the names I'd read on so many (hundreds) of Harlequin Romances/Tender Romances in the run-up to getting published and I wasn't disappointed. I met: Melissa McClone, Marion Lennox, Teresa Southwick, Susan Meier, Shirley Jump, Linda Goodnight, Judy Christenbury and probably a few more that are evading my memory (sorry, ladies!). above left - editor Maddie Rowe with Linda Goodnight and Judy Christenbury. right - Shirley Jump and senior editor Tessa Shapcott.
Finally, around four o'clock, I managed to check into the Hyatt. My room was lovely with the biggest bed I have ever seen in it. It was high enough to reach my hips and wide enough for me to lie down on sideways and not overshoot the ends.
Wednesday, 18 July 2007
The Booksellers’ Tea was a chance for authors to meet booksellers and chat to them about their books. I took some of my newly-made ‘Fiona Harper’ pens along as a giveaway. I managed to chat to a couple of booksellers but they were vastly outnumbered by eager authors, so I ended up chatting to some authors as well, including the gorgeous and vastly talented Jane Porter who writes for Harlequin Presents/Modern Romance and Five Spot. I have vowed to love her forever because she liked ‘Blind-Date Marriage’. I think knowing that other writers, especially those you admire, have read your work and like it is one of the best confidence boosts a new author can have. I left the Booksellers’ Tea with a huge grin on my face.
Book signing virgin ahead!
Let me explain the pictures from that post: the first one is me doing my ‘serious author’ face, the second is me cracking up at my own attempts to be serious and the third is me calmed down (or at least as good as it was going to get).
The 'Readers for Life' Literacy Signing was my first book signing ever. Up until now the only signing I've done is when my family embarrass me by shoving a book and pen under my nose and make me scrawl on their copies. What a way to start! Four hundred plus authors and a scarily long queue of eager readers. I got butterflies as I raced past them all (late - blame the lifts) into the ballroom.
My one and only fear was that no one would come to my little table and ask me to sign a book. I arranged my books and my little pot of clotted cream fudge to entice the readers and sat down to wait...and wait...and wait.
Forty minutes later I was definitely in a gonna-go-and-and-eat-worms frame of mind. Especially as I was sitting next to Kim Harrison, New York Times bestselling paranormal romance author, who had a steady stream of visitors ever since the crowds has stampeded through the doors.
But, eventually, as the people made their way to the middle of the alphabet, I got some visitors and the rest of the afternoon went really quickly as I chatted to people I'd met online, people I'd met at the conference and complete strangers (bless 'em for helping me not to feel like Billy no-mates!). I had a really great time. The Readers for Life signing was in keeping with its Texan setting - larger than life and on a scale that had to be seen to be believed!
From left to right: me, Melissa McClone (Romance), Trish Wylie (Romance & Modern Extra), Olivia Gates (Medicals), Jennie Lucas (Modern/Presents) and Sandra Marton (Modern/Presents). I think Jenna Bayley-Burke must have been hiding behind the camera! Also present but not pictured were Marion Lennox and Carol Grace.
Next it was time to have a Mills& Boon Authors’ get together. We had planned to go to the Italian restaurant in the hotel, but found out it was a) rather small and b)rather busy. Plan B was pizza and vino in Sandra Marton’s room. Plan B was definitely the way to go! We could actually have a decent conversation and, as we munched on delicious pizza that we got delivered to the hotel, we had great fun. Medical author Olivia Gates produced a whole plate of baklava (yum) all the way from Egypt for dessert. Marion Lennox donated a whole box of Tim Tams (which somehow ended up in Trish and Jenna’s room afterwards). I had heard a lot about these legendary Australian chocolate biscuits from my best friend and was delighted to actually sample them for myself. Odd that I finally had them in Texas…