Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Theory on Thursday with Maisey Yates

Today I have fellow Sassy Sister (yes, they took pity on me and asked me to join a while back) and mega-prolific Mills & Boon Presents author Maisey Yates talking the BIG C!!! CONFLICT! Something I think we NEVER stop learning about. Take it away Maisey...

Thank you for having me, Rach! I really appreciate you asking me to blog. :)

Sustainable conflict is essential to any story. If there’s no conflict, there’s very little interest. I’m not talking conflict in terms of your characters screaming and yelling at each other either. I’m talking about something deeper.

Most books have two main types of conflict. There’s external conflict, and there’s internal conflict.

External conflict stems from external forces. Example: your heroine wants to buy her father’s company, but he’s selling it to someone else. Internal conflict comes from within a character. You heroine feels like she’s not good enough, because her father has never seen her value.

One of the best ways I’ve heard it put was that external conflict forces your characters together (your heroine proposes to your hero in order to get herself into a position to buy her father’s company) and the internal conflict keeps them apart. (your hero’s fear of being hurt prevents him from admitting her loves the heroine)

I’m a big believer in internal conflict in romance novels. Without it, what you end up with, very often, is conflict that could have easily been cleared up if the two of them had sat down in a room together and just engaged in honest conversation.

Real, sustainable, deep conflict isn’t that simple. In order to solve it, your characters have to change. They have to reach a crisis point and address a world view they’ve held for years, and make a conscious decision to think and feel differently.

I did a post a long while back called the onionparfait , about how a book is layers upon layers. Layers of conflict, layers of character.

You have, especially in category romance, the external right up front. It’s the thing that pushes your characters into close proximity with each other. And then as the story progresses, that part of the conflict starts to recede into the background as the deeper conflict and theme emerges.

Conflict and character go hand in hand. Their internal conflict will affect how they act, how they relate to other people. The relationships they’ve had in the past, the relationships they have now. It will affect how they interact with the hero or heroine. It will affect how the sex plays out in the loves scenes. Conflict is a part of the character, not just something you talk about in exposition.

With characters you have layers as well. You have essence vs identity. Who they are, and who they show the world they are. Or, in some cases, who they are vs who who they THINK they are. These can be very contradictory things, and when they are, I think it makes a character more interesting, more dynamic.

In my most recent MS, A Game of Vows, the heroine, Hannah, is an extremely competent and gutsy business woman. She’s probably the most full-on heroine I’ve ever written. She doesn’t just go toe to toe with the alpha hero, she does her level best to flatten him, particularly when she begins feeling a connection to him.

That heroine, who was so intense and hard on the outside, is by far my most broken on the inside. Her image is essential, projecting strength is essential, because her wounds are so great, and exposing them would mean dealing with them.

So she has a very clear cut difference between who she is, and who she pretends to be. Getting to the heart of her conflict is a stripping away of layers.

Very much like the external/internal conflict structure in the whole MS, you start with the simple, the obvious, and move deeper into the truth as the story progresses.

The black moment happens when the conflict comes to a head. When one character is pushed further than they’re ready to go. Example: your heroine is asking for love and your hero is not ready to give it.

All along the way the characters have been changing. They’ve been confronting elements of their conflict. But this is the big break. This is where everything, all the self protection, has to fall away.

This is the moment where your character has to decide: what’s scarier? Letting go of everything they’ve put into place to protect themselves? Or losing the person they love?

That’s how I deal with internal conflict, and how I use to take my characters on a journey, and hopefully take the reader on one as well!

If you have any questions about character or conflict or...anything...please ask in the comments! 

Thanks Maisey! And yes, please DO ask questions!! Maisey is one wise and VERY knowledgeable lady :)

You can find Maisey at her website, on Twitter (LOTS) and on Facebook

Blurbs for Maisey's recent books:

The first time Maddy Forrester heard her boss’s mesmerizing voice barking orders down the phone, she knew he was a force to be reckoned with. But nothing prepared her for the sight of Aleksei Petrov. He is the last thing Maddy needs, but the first thing she wants!
Aleksei is determined not to mix business with pleasure, but he struggles with the irresistible sparks his feisty secretary ignites in him- she’s a problem he does not want.
The proposed solution? One unforgettable night to fulfill their every wicked desire.

Never been kissed.
Noelle was once the girl who had everything. Until the piano prodigy fell from grace. Destitute and desperate, she’s forced to accept billionaire Ethan Grey’s convenient proposal.
Ethan wants revenge – all he needs is Noelle’s signature on the marriage certificate. Yet his carefully composed façade cracks in the face of her innocent attempts at seduction.
Noelle’s only ever felt love and excitement whilst at her beloved piano – yet now her traitorous body craves the white-hot passion ignited by Ethan’s skilled touch. But will he ever see her as more than a means to an end?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

My Keeper Shelf - Part One (category romance)

I used to be a hoarder and keep absolutely EVERY book I've ever bought, but now, I'm more ruthless because my book collection got simply ridiculous and we've moved around a lot. Removalists (and husbands) get cranky having to cart around heavy book boxes. Go figure!

Anyway, I was sad to throw many of my massive collection of Mills & Boon novels away - some I gave to my mother-in-law who is an avid fan too :) But there are a few category novels that will stay with me until they pack ME up in a box and no doubt my boys will have to decide what to do with mum's tatty old books. These are the novels that I plan on rereading one day when I have OODLES AND OODLES of time (of which I don't right now).

Here's my Mills & Boon Keeper List:

  • The Magnate's Indecent Proposal - by Ally Blake - possibly my favourite category book of all time. I will NEVER loan this out and DIE if I lose it. 
  • The Secret Life of Lady Gabriella - by Liz Fielding
  • Molly Cooper's Dream Date - by Barbara Hannay
  • Wife For A Week - by Kelly Hunter
  • Take On Me - by Sarah Mayberry
  • The Princes of the Outback series - by Bronwyn Jameson
  • In McGillivray's Bed - by Anne McAllister
  • Breakfast AT Giovanni's - by Kate Hardy
  • Oh-So-Sensible Secretary - by Jessica Hart
  • Hot-Shot Tycoon, Indecent Proposal - by Heidi Rice
I get excited just typing these titles.

In the next few days I'll do a post about my keeper single title books but first, if you read Mills & Boon, I'd love to hear some of your keepers and if not, I dare you to track down one of these titles and have a read :)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Theory on Thursday with Rachel Bailey

Today I'm ecstatic to have my RWAus twin on my blog - a MASSIVE welcome to Desire author, Rachel Bailey. We're twins because people actually mistake us for the same person - we often get each other's emails, more often Rachel gets mine cos she's far more famous than I am - and sometimes people who have known us for years, discover we're actually two different people. Seriously... it happens that much that we're thinking of getting t-shirts printed for conferences. Something along the lines of ''If you've read Rachel Johns, you'll LOVE Rachel Bailey'' and vice versa. Aside from our first names being the same, my ''real'' name is VERY similar to Bailey and well... you get the idea.

Rachel's chatting today about something I LOVE the idea of but have never actually managed to embrace properly so I'm hoping for some tips. 

Over to you Rach...

Inviting your right brain out to play

Popular psychology has a theory that our left brains are the place where most logical thinking happens, where we do our arithmetic, store the grammar rules and generally be rational. The theory goes on to say that our right brains are where our creativity resides, our imagination and intuition, and where we synthesise things.

You may already have a good relationship with your right brain, but my left brain usually jumps in before my right brain gets a chance to say much. So when I’m plotting a story, I have a couple of techniques I use to coax my right brain into playing with us.

One of those is collage.

You’ve probably read about collages and writing before – there are some great articles on the web, such as this one by Jennifer Crusie, so my post today is more about how collages work for me.

Sometimes when I’m rushing to plot a book, I consider skipping this step, but things always go easier for me later with the story when I’ve taken the time.

I generally start by flipping through magazines. There’s a stack in my office cupboard kept for just this purpose. I’m looking for the obvious: someone who might look like my hero or heroine (I also browse the internet for these) and settings that might occur in the book. But I’m also looking for anything that may *feel* right. It might be a bottle of red wine, or a posy of wildflowers, or a word, or a blue background. After a while the random images start to form a pattern. Or not. But, put with the things my left brain chooses, they always add up to an overview of the feeling of the story.

Then I’ll go to a craft store / craft section of a department store and scour for anything that feels right on their shelves. For a future book I’m planning I bought silver and purple felt stick on butterflies. They’re so pretty, and although I don’t think there are any butterflies in the story (or maybe there will be?) it’s probably going to be a metaphor for my heroine’s journey. Sometimes an image or an object I find will start my brain thinking about a whole new thread to the story – those moments are gold.

The background to the collage is important to me too. For Million-Dollar Amnesia Scandal, I stuck pieces of red and brown paper in a chequered pattern before adding on the pictures on top – the colours felt right. For What Happens in Charleston… I used thick black cardboard and sprayed it with gold hairspray to give it a glitter effect. (Probably my favourite collage background so far!)

The act of creating the collage is really useful to me in getting the plot together in my head and finding threads and aspects to the story I otherwise may have missed. But that’s only one purpose.

After I’ve finished a collage, I hang it above my computer while I write the book and it becomes an ongoing inspiration. When I first sit down in the mornings, I look up at the collage and fall into the story again – especially important if I’ve just been working on edits for another story and need to ‘feel’ this one again.

Also, when I have those moments where I wonder about what comes next, instead of gazing out the window (which would be sure to distract me), I gaze at the collage. Looking at the picture I’ve chosen for him pasted beside the picture of the heroine surrounded by all the colours and metaphors for their journey, I can almost hear them talking (or not talking as the case may be) and I know where the story needs to go. It’s like the collage becomes my muse.

Everyone’s brain works differently, so using collages may not help you at all – it might just waste your time – but it might be worth a try in case it does add something to your plotting experience!

So tell me, have you ever used a collage when writing? Was it useful or just a waste of time? I’d love to hear about your experiences!

(By the way, I haven’t posted any photos of my collages here because I’m sure they’d have images that are copyright to the photographer and I need to respect that.)

WOW Rachel, some of those collages sound AMAZING!!! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your collaging process with us Rachel. Do be sure to share your collage-ing experiences as Rachel said :)

Rachel's latest book is WHAT HAPPENS IN CHARLESTON (don't ya just love that title?)
Here's the blurb:
Money has always given Matthew Kincaid whatever he wanted. Yet now his son needs something even his millions can't buy. The widower's sole recourse is the surrogate who gave birth to his child - for she is also the boy's true biological mother.
Susannah Parrish needs no prodding to offer her assistance - a child's life is at stake. But to their mutual surprise, the minute she's back in Charleston and residing in Matthew's home, passion consumes them. Is this a relationship doomed by deception? Or is it the one chance at a love they both secretly crave?

You can find Rachel at her website, on Twitter and on Facebook (go ahead, like her. You know you want to :)). 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How Writing CAN Make You Fit!

Writing can be a sedentary sport - we sit still in front of a computer for long hours at a time, tapping away, only exercising our brains and our fingers. Oh and also our elbow every time we reach out to pick up that favourite snack or lift the Diet Coke can (actually I ALWAYS have mine in a glass) - but basically it's a sit-on-your-butt-and-watch-it-spread occupation!!!

So how lucky was I to make friends with the fabulous Becca J Heath during an online writing course a few years back?

Why you ask? Well, not only has Bec become one of the best writing friends a girl can ask for - we email daily about everything from what our kids are doing to drive us insane to how our work-in-progresses are going. We critique for each other and cheer and commiserate together when the need arises, but what I NEVER expected was that Bec would challenge me in my non-writing life as well.

Just over a year ago, Bec mentioned she was starting the Couch to 5k running program. This course basically takes you from being an unfit sloth like I was to running for HALF AN HOUR non-stop - that is right, you read that correct!!! Bec inspired me to start this program too - it's available to download FREE on iTunes - and while it's taken me nearly a year to get to week 5, this morning I walked briskly for 5mins, RAN for 8mins, walked for another 5, RAN for another 8 and then finished with 5 mins walking to cool down. This feels like magic to me. When I ran week 1 (Brisk five-minute warmup walk. Then alternate 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes.) I thought I was going to DIE! Seriously. But I didn't and slowly (I did each week twice), I have built up my fitness so that on Thursday I'm going to attempt week 5 run 3 which is running for TWENTY minutes. If I never blog again, you'll know I didn't make it, but I have confidence that I will, because this program rocks.

I'm feeling good about myself and I've shed a couple of kilos (would be more if I could resist chocolate but yanno, that's not gonna happen)! And I don't think I would have heard of this program if it wasn't for my writing CP Bec - so indirectly, writing HAD led me to improve my fitness and lose weight.

And Bec, well, she's excelled beyond belief, recently participated in a 7k+ fun run and is now anticipating marathons. I take my hat off to her. SHE ROCKS!

(N.B - the reason it's taken me almost a year to get to this stage is that I had a long period off with a bad back last year but once I started again, I've probably taken about 8 or 9 weeks to get to this stage)

I'm curious... have you been challenged by a friend to do something you never imagined yourself doing?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Third AWW Challenge Book - Matilda Is Missing

Matilda Is Missing by Caroline Overington was a fabulous read and I will definitely be glomming Caroline's backlist, all of which sound as unique and fascinating as this one.

Here's the blurb:

Garry Hartshorn and Softie Monaghan were never love's young dream. Not even on their wedding day. 
Softie was sophisticated, a career woman, who owned a nice apartment overlooking St Kilda Beach. Garry had a few rough edges, plus one failed marriage and an assortment of jobs under his belt. 
But Softie's body clock was ticking, and Garry wanted children … 
So they got married, and produced the only thing they ever had in common. 
Now, two years later, their golden-haired child is at the centre of a bitter custody battle. Both parents insist that her well-being is the only thing they care about. 
Yet, in truth, Matilda was always the one most likely to become lost.


Aside from the fact Matilda Is Missing is quite different from the books I usually read, I adored the subject and the way the story of one custody battle was told by a man very closely involved in another battle - that of his wife vs his son's ex-wife. His wife is a cracker of a character, who goes to extremes beyond what most people would but she loved her grandchildren so you could understand where she was coming from.

ALL of the characters are I feel sympathetic, bar one man perhaps who we get hints about throughout the book but do not find the truth of right until the very end.

The voice of the novel was very easy and enjoyable to read.

The plot and the way it me told had me turning pages right into the night. It was a meaty and relevant subject to write about.


In one word, closure!! I guess I'm a happy ever after girl and I'd have liked to have known what happened to the characters in the end. The story of the narrator and his wife's battle to see their grandchildren was loosely tied up but it was all very sudden and therefore maybe not realistic or satisfying (but that is MY opinion and many others probably disagree). The main story of the custody battle over Matilda doesn't reach a satisfying closure and although this annoyed me on one level, on another I think I understood why the author left it like this. It's a realistic story - I have no idea if it was based on an actual case or not but it very easily could be and the sad fact is, such custody battles are often never resolved to satisfy everyone.

General thoughts:

I found it interesting that the two main characters (Matilda's parents) don't actually have any point of view space in the book. Maybe this was deliberately done - without getting into the heads of either of Matilda's parents it was easy not to become too close to them and side with one or the other. In that way, it was a challenging read - I wanted the best for Matilda but both parents had their pros and cons and I didn't know who/if I should barrack for.

I'm not sure how you'd classify this book in terms of genre, but it certainly makes you think and therefore I believe it is the type of novel many people - across different ages and genders - would enjoy!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Theory on Thursday with Liz Fielding

One of my favourite category romance books of ALL TIME (yes, it's THAT good) is Liz Fielding's The Secret Life of Lady Gabriella (In fact, I'm going to reread it really soon). Since reading that book, I do my utmost to keep up to date with what Liz puts out and I'm never disappointed. So, I was VERY excited to hear that Liz had put out a romance writing craft book and even MORE excited when she agreed to share some with my Theory on Thursday readers. So, without further ado (and no more fan girl moments) here it is...

Begin your story at a moment of crisis, a point in time when your character’s life is about to change for ever.

 Mollie Blake’s Writing Workshop Notes from Secret Wedding by Liz Fielding
Mollie Blake is a woman who knows what’s she’s talking about. Well, obviously, I created her back in 2000 for my novella,The Secret Wedding and she’s come with me on the adventure of writing my Little Book of Writing Romance.

This little book is a primer, an entry level aid for the writer who has a story to tell, but is struggling to get it out of her head and onto paper. To quote the theme song for the movie of Erich Segal’s bestselling book Love Story, “How do you begin…?”

I know how that feels, I’ve been there and this book is the distillation of the things I’ve learned over twenty years as a published author.

It’s the book I wish I’d had when I was starting out.

My purpose has been to explain, in the simplest terms, and using examples from my own work, how to make the transition from the story in your head to words on paper. How to write a compelling opening — I have deconstructed an opening scene — deepen conflict, write honest emotion, hopefully with a touch of humour to leaven the mix. How to write crisp dialogue, develop the romance, add a little sizzle.

The primary purpose of a romance novel is to elicit a positive emotional experience for the reader. Make her smile, make her cry, make her sigh with pleasure. To put it in a nut shell, to give her a good time.

To achieve that, you must give her characters she will care about, with whom she will be happy to share hours of her precious time, characters who, no matter what their faults may be — and perfection is so dull — are likeable.

To write their story you will have to know your characters intimately. For this, you need to do more than fill out a character worksheet with all their physical characteristics, their birth sign, their place in the family hierarchy, the names of their siblings.

Of course you have to know what colour eyes and hair your hero has, how tall he is, how old he is — ditto your heroine — before you begin. Making a note of these details and pinning it up so that you can check them when you’re in full flow a hundred pages into your manuscript is a sensible precaution. (You may think you couldn’t possibly forget these vital statistics but you will.)

These are, however, no more than the basics.

To come alive on the page, your hero and heroine must be more than two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs that you move around the stage. You should not be asking yourself “what can I make them do next”. If your characters are blood-and-bones, heart-and-soul real, you will know what they would do, just as you instinctively know what someone close to you would do in any given circumstance.

You may hear authors talking about characters who “take over” the story. That is not because the author is not in control of her characters, but because she has created three-dimensional, living, breathing people, men and women she knows so well that her writing brain is flying ahead of her fingers on the keyboard.

To truly know your characters you must understand not just what they look like, where they went to school, what they do for a living but see them living in their own world, having a life before you write Chapter One.

Download my book and I’ll show you how I do that :)

Liz Fielding is the author of more than sixty romances and has been nominated seven times for the Romance Writers’ of America RITA® award, winning twice with The Best Man & the Bridesmaid and The Marriage Miracle. She has also been nominated three times for the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association “Romance Prize”, winning with A Family of His Own.

She has also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Romantic Times BOOKclub magazine

A full list of her books is available at: Liz Fielding's Website

Liz Fielding’s Little Book of Writing Romance is available as an eBook download from Amazon.

I've got this book on my Kindle and I cannot WAIT to get stuck in :) Has anyone else read it yet? I'd love to hear your thoughts?!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Why I love writing for Harlequin!

Last year my biggest dream came true - I signed first with Carina Press (Harlequin's digital imprint) and then with Harlequin for the imprint MIRA Australia.

Harlequin have been my dream publisher since I really started focusing on romance in 2006. Why? Because they know ROMANCE!! Harlequin are THE BIGGEST romance publisher in the WORLD and also one of the biggest publishers full stop. They not only keep up with new publishing trends but they are often the ones setting them. They have a huge distribution network and ensure their books are well placed in book shops to reach loads of readers.

My stories are very much romances - they focus on the hero and heroine and their journeys to discover true love! All my novels have active secondary characters and the longer ones have additional plots beside the romance but the ROMANCE is what makes the book. So what better place for them to find a home than with Harlequin?

However... there's another reason I'm so very happy to be with Harlequin. It's about the chocolates and the champagne!!

When I signed with Harlequin Australia for Jilted (Mira, June 2012), I received a lovely bottle of champagne in the mail and a congratulations card from the team in Sydney. THAT made my day almost as much as getting the original call. I took a photo but still haven't cracked open the bubbly. I'm thinking I might do that the day I get to hold a copy of Jilted in my own hands.

Now if THAT wasn't generous enough, today I got a beautiful box of chocolates - Happy Valentines Love Harlequin! I haven't heard of any other publisher who is so generous with warm fuzzies like Harlequin is and I'm PROUD and HAPPY to be one of their authors.


HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY to everyone. I'd love to hear what fabulous gifts or gestures YOU got!!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Embrace Your Process!

Over the course of the last fourteen years - yep, that's how long it took me to achieve my dream/goal of publication - I've written five100k+ single title novels and seven shorter length straight romances. You think in that time, I'd have perfected SOME kind of process, but I think I'm only just finally coming to grips with how I write. Finally coming to accept that if my rambling airy-fairy way of planning and then writing from start to finish without too much stressing about content works for me, then I should embrace it, instead of read about the processes of other writers and strive to achieve what THEY do.

I have high ambitions of keeping a bible for each book. But my notebooks generally become a massive mess, holding snatches of conversation that come to me before their time/place in the book and little scene/chapter notes that I write as I go along. I don't keep them, they are THAT bad by the time I'm finished with them. Occasionally I choose celebrity pictures of my hero and heroine, but just as often I rely on my own imagination. I only do an outline/synopsis beforehand if I'm entering the wip in a contest (not really happening at that stage anymore now I'm published). Otherwise I start with a tiny seed of an idea - in the case of JILTED (Mira, June 2012), it was a runaway bride coming back to a small, close-knit town ten years after leaving their golden boy. From that seed, characters and conflicts grew and a few key scenes/turning points dawned on me along the way. I don't even worry TOO much about the whole GMC - if I've got a tincy idea, I just let it flow.

And then I start at page one. Actually, I usually like to come up with a good working title before this - for some reason, my writing never kicks off until I've got the right one! And then, I sit down at my trusty lap top and start tapping away.

I'm a HUGE word count watcher. I need to know constantly how far I've come and how far I have to go - this constant watching probably slows me down a bit, but I've learnt that's just what I do.

Each day when I sit down to write, I MUST reread the previous day's work. And, throughout the course of my writing, I often have to go back and reread the previous few paragraphs before writing another sentence/paragraph. Sometimes (shock-horror), possibly once or twice a wip, I have to go back and read from the start. I've found this ensures that I keep the same tone/voice throughout - helps remind me who the characters were that I've started with. And of course, emotionally they have to change, but other things need to be consistent - their likes/dislikes, mannerisms, dialogue, etc.

I've also found that writing everyday DOES help me get into the habit of writing even when my muse is taking an extended holiday. This means that some days what I write isn't as mind-blowingly brilliant as what I wrote the day before, but I figure at least I've got something to work with.

Although I read back each day before writing, I don't edit each chapter as such as I go on. I prefer to get the first draft down quite quickly and then let it sit for a week or so (depending on deadlines) before going back and cleaning/livening it up.

So, that's my process and it works for me.

So, I hereby solemnly promise that when I read blog posts about other writers' processes in the future, I won't sit there and jealously wish their process was mine.

We all write in strange and wonderful ways... which is why we end up with such a diversity of great fiction on our shelves.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Theory on Thursday with Jennifer Scoullar

Another fabulous Theory on Thursday this week, with new Penguin author Jennifer Scoullar. Jennifer openly shares about her recent editing experience with her debut book (our in July) Brumby's Run. Jennifer's account is fascinating whether you've recently been through something similar or are looking ahead to what the editing experience might hold...

‘We edit to let the fire show through the smoke’ - Plotnik

On the fifth of January I received editorial notes from Penguin for my upcoming novel, Brumby’sRun.  An expert, in-house structural edit with a major publishing house, was for me the vast unknown territory between submission and publication. I had some idea what to expect, and in some ways was looking forward to the experience.  Fellow rural author Karly Lane had commented to me, ‘I LOVE editorial reports- my first one was the most amazing writing experience I’ve ever gone through. It’s amazing how just a few questions can spark your imagination and send you in a whole new direction’ Another writer friend of mine, Jewelene Barrile,  said ‘I want that revelation of a brilliant editor taking my ideas and polishing & resetting them in a way that opens my eyes to the craft of novel writing forever more.” Sounds good, doesn’t it?
             But I must admit, the report put me into a spin. The first thing I noticed was how well the editor knew my story – almost better than I knew it myself. It was disconcerting to find this person fluent in what had been, up to now,  my own private imaginary world.  More than that, she could pick when I’d hurried a scene or missed an opportunity to deepen a characterisation.  It was uncanny! She started me off with flattery, talking about the evocative descriptions of the High Country, the heartfelt bond between the twins and their horses, and the beautiful brumbies that almost steal the show. She was happy with structure, with pace, with point of view. So far so good, though I could still feel a but coming.
             Once the buttering up process was over, we got down to the nitty gritty. ‘As you’ll see in my notes below, most of my observations relate to character – I often found myself wanting to know more about a particular character, or wondering how their behaviour would affect others.’ Then she gave me a detailed character breakdown, and her thoughts on how to fix things. There was no direction, just endless questions. ‘We know Faith is Sam’s anxious, loving upper-class mother – but how well do we really know her? There’s a great opportunity in the early chapters of the book to develop a deeper relationship between Faith and Sam, and I’d love to see more of Faith throughout the novel. What drives Faith? What does she do for a living? What makes her happy? How is her relationship with Sam? We get the impression it’s bad, but why?’ And so it went on – almost 4,000 words of it.
             She finished with ‘This may seem like quite a lot to think about at this point, Jenny, but there’s no rush’. (I had three weeks!) ‘I envisage that the next step from here would be a minor redraft, depending on what strikes a chord for you in these notes’.
             The first day I just read the report over and over, feeling thoroughly daunted.  The next day I wrote two thousand new words and then deleted them. The next day I reduced the report to its essence, to dot points, and started a redraft in which I tried to address the very valid issues my editor had raised. Things began to fall into place.
             Text editor Mandy Brett talks about ‘The character of the relationship between editor and authorin which power see-saws in quite a freaky wayYou are a taskmaster who issues deadlines, criticism, demands, sanctions. You are also a servant whose principal task is to make someone else look good and not be observed doing it.’  This is so very true. Such a privilege to have someone who really cares, help you release the full potential of your story.  
             Editor, novelist and reporter Arthur Plotnik once said, ‘You write to communicate, to the hearts and minds of others, what’s burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.” By the end of the redraft my manuscript was vastly improved. It’s strange though. In some ways the process I went though is still as mysterious as ever.

Thanks so much Jennifer, that was fascinating. Sounds very similar to the experience I just went through with JILTED. When I saw the initial report, I almost died but now I think my editor is a GOD!!

Jennifer's book Brumby's Run (blurb below) and I can't wait. You can check out Jennifer's webpage, like her on Facebook or follow on Twitter.

Brumby's Run tells the story of Samantha Carmichael, a young woman whose life is turned upside down when she discovers she was adopted – and that she has a twin sister, who is now critically ill. With little warning, Sam finds herself looking after her newfound sister's farm, high in the Victorian Alps. What starts as a daunting challenge soon becomes a wholehearted tree change, as Sam grows to love the property and the locals – especially handsome mountain cattleman Drew Chandler. But is Sam's sister ready to really accept her into her life? And can Sam truly leave the city behind?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Guesting at Down Under Divas

I'm chatting with Sami Lee today at the HUGELY FABULOUS Down Under Divas blog and I'd love some visitors (hint, hint)!

I'm talking books, writing and my Top Five movies, men, drinks, etc - of which you may be a little surprised/shocked!

Hope to see you there.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

There's Something About Nora!

I just finished reading Nora Roberts' latest - THE NEXT ALWAYS. Verdict? I LOVED it. Why? Now that's gonna be a little bit harder to explain.

THE NEXT ALWAYS is the story of Clare and Beckett - the first in a new Nora trilogy :) which is fabulous cos I'm hanging out for the next two. Clare's a widow and Beckett is a single guy who has had a crush on Clare since high school. Oh and Clare has three young boys to her dead husband. And that's about it in terms of conflict. Seriously - the BIG C that we all strive for, the BIG C that is the subject of many a romance writing conference, the BIG C that many of us have been reject for - is that she's been married before and he maybe feels a little bit like he's stepping on his dead school mate's toes.

That simple conflict is not even really developed to its full potential - at the beginning of the book, Clare is a little nervous but more than happy to move on. She doesn't think twice about accepting Beckett's advances and is simply overjoyed that she has it inside her to love again. I guess both characters do have growth - Claire has the learning to love again thing and Beckett realising that he wants the whole shebang that Claire brings with her - but none of this is very strong.

There's a bit of an external plot point that causes discomfort for these two but I wouldn't say it really threatens their relationship.

And this is what has got me flummoxed!!

I really enjoyed this book but the plot wasn't anything special or unique and there was definitely not a strong conflict, however I kept reading because I loved how the book made me feel. I loved the characters - Clare and Beckett, her three boys and the secondary characters which will soon have their own romance stories. I also loved the slight paranormal element - no, there weren't any vampires or witches or wear wolves, but there was a ghost in the building Beckett and his brothers are renovating. The ghost's story was beautifully done!

HOW does Nora sustain a book for 300+ pages with no real conflict, yet have me reading late into the night wanting to finish it?

Anyone got any answers? I'd love to hear them!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Writing out of your comfort zone...

In other words completely making things up! That's what I'm doing now. 

The hero in my current wip - MAN DROUGHT - is a volunteer ambulance officer (which my hubby happens to be also). He lives in a small rural community - the nearest hospital is about forty minutes drive away and the nearest maternity hospital even further. 

So what happens when the heroine's best friend goes into early labour? 

He's called in to be the well... um... the HERO! Now there are a few problems with this scenario. One, I've never delivered a baby. And two, even though I have three kids, I've never actually given birth - I had three c-sections you see. Three, despite being married to an ambo officer, being in the back of the van showing the kids it is the closest I've got. 

But this is what writing fiction is all about - doing some research and then making it up as best you can. When I'm finished this ambulance delivery scene I will bribe a couple of CPs (who have had babies and/or are nurses) and I will also get my ambo hubby to take a look. Hopefully the end product will be authentic.

So... I'm curious... what have you written (or read) that was out of your comfort zone lately?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Theory on Thursday With Shawna Thomas

Another fellow Carina Press author today! I'm really happy to welcome Shawna Thomas to share her view on writing with us. And I promise, it's a beauty! 


I've always equated writing with painting. Well, painting and magic but I'll get more into that later.
You see, when I taught my children about writing, we'd start out with a sketch: bare bones. Let me show you.

The dog ran.

This gives you basic information but it doesn't tell you much. So we'll add some color. In this case, literally.

The brown dog ran.

Still we don't have much information. So we add a little more color.

The brown dog ran down the street

Hmmm. Let's just cut to the chase.

The brown dog ran down the empty street, pausing to sniff at each intersection before frantically resuming his mad dash.

In my imagination, I see this dog running between tall, grey buildings. Deep purple clouds skate across a dusky sky that promises rain. But it wouldn't do to just tell you that. I have to show you, to transfer the image in my mind to yours.

You see the goal of each sentence is to paint a picture in your, the reader's, head. But it doesn't stop there and this is where the magic is. I don't know about you, but I'm curious about that dog now. Is he in search of someone? Is he lost? Was he abandoned? What's his story? He's caught my attention.  I care. It's my job, as a writer, to make you care too.

So how do we do that? Honestly, sometimes I do think it's part magic. How else do you describe arranging words in such a way to cause you to fall in love with characters, to react passionately to love a story, to grown with the hero's defeat and tear up when he finally succeeds? With words you can transfer emotion, ideas, thoughts, create realities. That's heavy stuff.

But how?

Oh come on, did you think I was going to share my secrets with you? Just kidding. Kinda.

A lot of it is falling in love with the characters long before a reader sees the first word, and some of it before the first word is even typed. If I don't cry with my characters, I don't expect my readers to. If I'm not passionately angry but strangely intrigued by my villain, I don't expect any one else to be either. This means creating characters that existed before a time the book begins.

When creating a world, it must be real to me. How did they get there? What would their history lessons by like? How do they pay for things? How are they governed? What do they worship? Sometimes, there will only be a small mention, a tidbit here and there, that makes it into the book. But these tidbits give an impression of a complete world. A world with depth.

Tolkien did this better than anyone I know. I read everything I could find on the love story between Aragorn and Arwen because he hinted at a complex history between the two of them, history that happened before the first book took place.

And then, it's taking all that information, going back to the beginning and creating that rough sketch.
She knelt before the gravestone.

That's my rough sketch sentence with one detail. I know the color of her hair, what's she's wearing, and her emotional state. I can clearly see the surroundings and even time of day and weather. I need to convey that to the reader, but I don't need to put all that information in one sentence. What I will do is step by step, sentence by sentence paint a picture with words that will lead the reader into my world.

If I did this right, you'll be able to see the rough sketch sentence parallels a rough sketch plot. You start with bare bones, adding color, depth, drama, until the picture, and story comes alive. It's painting with words and I do believe it's magic.

 Thanks so much for blogging with me Shawna. I love your analogy for writing :) You can find Shawna on Twitter!

Shawna's latest book ALTERED DESTINY is available now from Carina Press and Amazon!

Here's the blurb: 

Selia has run her family's tavern since she was fifteen and can hunt and fight the equal of any man. When she rescues a badly wounded man and nurses him back to health, she has no idea she's about to change not only her life, but also the destinies of two peoples...

The battered warrior is Svistra—a race of bloodthirsty savages determined to destroy her homeland. Or so the stories claim. Jaden reveals a different truth: how his ancestors were driven into the barren northern mountains. Now they are strong and war parties are pushing south wanting their land back.

The son of a Svistra Commander, Jaden is looking for a way to bring peace to both humans and Svistrans. He tries to ignore his growing passion for Selia, but when she is captured he has to decide what he would be willing to sacrifice to save the woman he loves...