Saturday, September 1, 2012

Riva Relaunch and How YOU Can Help Make It A Success!

Since today marks the offical re-launch of Riva online at the Mills & Boon site before it hits ebook sellers and WHSmith in October, I thought I'd surface from the writing cave (and take a breather from the book from hell) to bring you the lowdown.

With the makeover complete and a brand new App for you to play with on Facebook (look out for the competition!) the books are available to order as of RIGHT NOW. There will be Blogs from the editors throughout September, Love Bites telling you what they thought of the books on Youtube and you can find links to all your favorite authors on Twitter and Facebook, too. While some of the books (like mine) are re-releases, some are brand spanking new, so if you've been missing your monthly Riva fix what are you waiting for?

Why are there re-releases, you ask? Well, the theory is the books selected by the editors sum up what they consider the 'flavour' of Riva and since they're targeting new readers as well as our faithful followers, the hope is the new covers will encourage people to pick them up if they've hadn't done so already. And this, my dear peeps, is where YOU can help make this re-launch a success!

If a Riva rocked your world, let us know on your blog or Twitter/Facebook/Goodreads/Shelfari/Tumblr/Facebook, etc. pages. You can tell us what you loved, write a review, share pics of how you thought the characters looked or even add to the stories with a little imagination of your own. Show us how you'd dress them, where you'd send them on a date, what you'd cook for them or what kind of wedding they might have-the sky is the limit! If you're smarter than me (which let's face it wouldn't be all that difficult) you could even come up with one of those list thingies where you tag people and ask them to make their own list on the same subject.

These days word of mouth from a reliable source is the best form of advertising out there. Just look to 50 Shades for the proof! So if Riva Rocks Your World let us know and together we can make sure there are plenty more books to come...

And on that note I'm going back to the cave to continue fighting the good fight with Reid Brannigan's story. More links to come on the subject of the Riva re-launch fun as and when I get them and if you have Blogs, Tweets, etc. to share on your favorite books let me know in the comments and I'll add them to the Behind The Scenes Blog I promised for Jo from New York's Finest Rebel!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Behind The Scenes Of New York's Finest Rebel

Since New York's Finest Rebel is officially out in the USA and Canada (my last book for the Harlequin Romance line before the launch of KISS), this week I thought I'd talk a little about the thought process for the book and where I found inspiration.

Every author has their own way of approaching a new story and with this one I had a bit of a head start since it was the second in a planned series of four books which revolve around the Brannigan family. Having said that, linked books have to stand alone, so while I knew a little about my hero and heroine (and quite a bit about my hero's family), it wasn't anywhere near enough to start moving a blinking cursor across a blank screen. It was time to go back to the drawing board and get to know my new characters inside, out and as is more-often-than-not the case, I looked at my hero first.

So what did I know about Daniel Brannigan?

Well for starters I knew he was a cop because Olivia, my heroine in The Inconvenient Laws Of Attraction, came from an NYPD family and Danny is the youngest of her four brothers. With that in mind, my first task was to immerse myself in all things NYPD-related. 

It's a tough job, folks...

After gathering all the information I could find on the recruitment process, how long it takes to complete the training and the ages/requirements for promotion, I visited Youtube and watched the series of short information films Inside The NYPD which explain the different roles within the department. As a result I decided the Emergency Services Unit (ESU) was the best 'fit' for Danny. It certainly gave me plenty to work with! Take a look at the clip below and you'll see what I mean.


Next I studied TV shows like Blue Bloods, Rookie Blue and the commentary for the movie World Trade Center.  I find commentaries and behind the scenes information particularly useful, especially when they come from people who are doing the job in real life. It's the next best thing to spending time with these real life heroes-not that I wouldn't be open to doing that given the opportunity! Seriously-guys who work in the NYPD and are happy to answer questions?-email me! Since I'm currently playing around with the idea of New York Firefighters for my next WIP, feel free to get in touch if you're in that line of work too :)

Blue Bloods proved to be a great touchstone and one I continue referring to as the series continues when I need to immerse myself in the lives of a fictional NYPD family. Keeping in mind the first book was more than a year in the making thanks to the chaos of my life and a major case of writer's block, I'd like to point out the idea for a family of cops came to me before I saw the show, but at the same time I have to confess a handful of similarities are (unintentionally I hasten to add) undeniable. Take the tradition the Reagan family has for Sunday lunch for example. The Brannigan's do that too (watch the show and you'll have a pretty darn close visual of how I see those lunches in my head), though in fairness maybe that's an Irish thing. I also love how they're all in different areas of law enforcement-something I wanted from the start for the Brannigan brothers.  Yes, they're all blond haired, blue eyed and cops, but while there are certain personality traits they have in common, each one of these gorgeous guys-like their stories-had to be as individual as possible.

The commentary for World Trade Center might seem like an unlikely place to find inspiration for a romance and considering how long it took me to sit down and watch this movie I would have agreed until listening to it. Thing is, if we want to delve deep into the characters we're creating and we've given them a real-life hero's job, I strongly believe we'd be doing those heroes a disservice if we didn't at the very least try to understand how they coped with the worst situation anyone could ever face. Listening to their commentary made me a hundred times more determined to give Danny depth and show respect for the profession I'd given him. Even though 9/11 or the fact the majority of the twenty-three NYPD Officers killed that day were with the ESU doesn't make it into the book, I sincerely hope I've managed to do that.

Mentioning this brings up an important point: The thing about research is not all of the information we gather gets used in the end product. One of my favourite quotes from RWA12 came from the inimitable Nora Roberts, who said 'You don't write what you know, you write what you want to find out.' I think that's so true and the more interested you are in the subject matter, the more realistic you can make your characters. But if I tried to include every little snippet of information from my research it would have weighed the story down. The focus had to remain on the characters.

So once I knew Danny's job and what it entailed, I had to think about the man.  Finding visual inspiration was a must-and keeping in mind I was looking for a blond haired, blue eyed hero, Paul Walker was a perfect fit. Then I had to think about Danny's personality-what kind of codes did he live by-what was he struggling with and why was it so difficult for him? Answering those questions helped flesh out the character and give him substance. Ultimately, as I'm certain is the case with the real life heroes I was inspired by, there's more to him than his job. After all, it isn't his job my heroine falls for, is it?

In the end Danny became one of my favorite hero's and from the feedback I've received it would seem all the hard work was-thankfully!-worthwhile.

New York's Finest Rebel is available from all the usual places and you can read excerpts of it on my website and Tumblr (which I suspect is about to become my new obsession). Next week we'll be talking about Jo, my fun fashionista heroine, and the process for creating her.

If you have any questions about Danny, my process for creating him or have read the book and would like to tell me what you thought, let me know in the comments.

In the meantime I'm VERY HAPPY to say I have a release date for Tyler Brannigan's story in the USA & Canada! Her Man In Manhattan will be my first KISS release and is out in April 2013.  And on that note it's back to the keyboard for me as I fight the good fight with Reid Brannigan to complete the series. As troublesome as they've been I'm gonna miss these guys when they're gone...

Have a great weekend gang!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Info On The Riva/KISS Line



My jealousy of everyone who got to attend the RWA Conference in Anaheim has almost come to an end (though the sting may last for a while) and as you can tell my plans to Blog every day while it was on haven't been going so well. Personally I blame a combination of book deadline and the Olympics but with any luck next year I'll Blog & Tweet live from Atlanta!

Anyhoo, for those who might have missed it, on Friday Harlequin held a Spotlight to tell us about their plans for the next year. Among the snippets of news about revamped covers, changing word-counts and new lines coming our way were details of Riva-the line I currently write for-and it's new counterpart in the USA and Canada, KISS, which will launch in February 2013.

Described as fun, contemporary, sassy romances with 21st century heroes and differing levels of explicitness, the books will relaunch in the UK in October with the brand new covers you can see here. 

The EHarlequin website has this to say:

KISS is sharply contemporary, glossy and chic, attracting readers who enjoy a short hit of romantic excitement with a thoroughly modern twist! Smart and stylish, sweet or sexy, these stories offer fun, flirty reads featuring smart, sassy heroines, equally matched by 21st century alpha heroes!

Key Elements
  • Contemporary romance series with a range of sensuality – we're looking for authors who can convey that young urban feel with sparkling characters and simmering tension - either with or without the hot sex!
  • This series is all about the 21st century alpha male hero!
  • Vibrant, sexy, spirited, fun – but still offering a strong emotional pay off and happy ever after.
  • 50,000 words
Featured in KISS:

Sparky, spirited heroines in control of their own destinies and with friends to help them through – these ladies are more than a match for their men.

Flirty, cheeky, alpha heroes, who expect their partners to be their equals - these guys are absolutely irresistible!

KISS is: all around you! Just look out for edgy, modern-day characters, sometimes struggling, sometimes knocked sideways by love, but finding their happy endings with plenty of laughter and attitude along the way…
  • TV: Brothers and Sisters, Ugly Betty, New Girl for their fab, witty dialogue
  • Films: What to Expect When You're Expecting, Bridesmaids, 500 Days of Summer, 27 Dresses, No Strings Attached, The Holiday, Friends With Kids, Crazy Stupid Love.
  • Authors: if you enjoy authors such as Kristin Higgins, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Tasmina Perry, Jennifer Cruisie or Meg Cabot you'll love KISS!

What this means for me is after the release of New York's Finest Rebel in the Harlequin Romance line next month, my books will (from February 2013 onwards) be available in Kiss. I don't have any of the release dates for either the UK or USA yet but you can rest assurred that when I do I shall be pimping the books putting up the details on my website.

If you're a writer THEY'RE LOOKING FOR BOOKS. I believe the term used at the Spotlight was 'actively acquiring'. So what are you waiting for?

If you're a reader what do you think of the covers? Are you looking forward to seeing what the line brings in the next year?

Usual weekly blog service will now resume. See you soon gang!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Less Than 48hrs Of Conference Jealousy Left To Go...

Can someone please tell me what happened to Thursday? I know I left it somewhere. Can't seem to find it now. But hey, at least I got a few words down in the WIP. That's something, right?

Me & Abbey in San Fancisco
So there are less than 48hrs remaining for me to be jealous of everyone at the RWA conference in Anaheim. If memory serves, by this stage of the week I'd be flagging, my bad leg would have swollen to twice its normal size, I'd need about a weeks sleep, but I'd be determined not to miss a single moment. Tonight's Harlequin Party usually serves as an excellent pick-me-up with authors and editors alike dancing until the wee small hours and plenty of amusing photographs to remind us of the event. A favourite memory of mine involves Abbey Green and a man in a kilt and in the words of Forrest Gump, that's all I have to say about that...

On the business side of things today is the Harlequin Spotlight when they bring us up to date on all their plans and the things they're looking for from authors. I'll be re-Tweeting all the news I can find on Twitter and since it was already mentioned at the RNA conference I fully expect there to be an announcement about the RIVA/KISS lines, so watch out for that!

As always, if anyone has any questions they want to ask let me know in the comments and don't forget the book giveaway in the last blog. With no questions to answer today, I'll skip straight to the links and get back to work.

Today's schedule at the Romance Divas NGTCC:

 

Panel: A Year in the Life of a Self-Published Romance Author (with Cate Rowan, Tawny Stokes aka Vivi Anna, Tori Scott, and Anthea Lawson) (continued)

 

Workshop: Setting Up Mailchimp (with Jeanette Murray) (continued)

 

Workshop/Q&A: The Man’s Perspective (with David Bridger) (continued)

 

Workshop/Q&A: The NSFW Man’s Perspective (with David Bridger) (continued)

 

Event: Accepting pitches of 250 words. (with editors Kris Keesler and Jill Lumber of Boroughs Publishing Group)

 

Workshop/Conversation: Choose Your Own Ending: Laughter or Tears

 

Blogs You Might Have Missed On The Interweb:


Weathering The Transition...Keeping The Faith-RWA Keynote Speech by Stephanie Laurens





See you tomorrow gang and then it's back to our usual weekly service!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

For Those Of Us They Left Behind...

So it's officially the first day of the RWA conference in Anaheim and, to kick things off in style, tonight roughly 400 authors will gather in one very big room to sign books in aid of Adult Literacy.  I've been on both sides of the table amidst the madness; meeting readers who were kind enough to say they loved my stories and tracking down some of my favorite authors in unashamedly determined fangirl mode. Yes, writers are readers too, and we all have our favs! You can see a list of all the authors signing tonight here. Who would you be stalking hope to meet?

For those of us left behind it can be the equivalent of pouring lemon juice on a papercut to get glimpses via Twitter or Facebook of all the goodies conference attendees will be gathering throughout the week. To help salve the pain, in the spirit of tonight's book signing, I'm giving away three books of your choice from my back catalogue to folks who leave a comment at the end of this blog (I'll pick the winners at the end of the week). If there are other authors who have books they'd like to give away just leave us a link in the comments so readers know where to find them or post details on Twitter with the #NotAtNationals hashtag. That way we can ALL share in the fun!

In yesterday's blog I invited you to ask questions you might like answered and Jill said: I used to think I had a problem with plotting. I would come up with this new, exciting twist on a tried and true plot and I'd try to pants the story or I'd try to outline the story. Both ways, I'd get stuck. The more I struggle with it, the more I realize, I need to try to put the characters and their motivations first. So, how do you get to know your characters and what they would do? Especially your heroes, I struggle with them a lot!

As I said to Jill in the comments, this is a particularly apt question for me right now as I would appear to have dug myself into yet another hole in yet another WIP.  It's usually a sign I've gotten off course or made the characters do or say something that just isn't 'them'. I know this after twenty-three odd books, but does it stop me from wallowing at the bottom of a pit of despair for several days? Oooohhh nooooo.

So how do we get to know our characters better? A lot of it is in the groundwork we put in before we start a story. These people have to be as real to us as family or friends we've known for years. With that in mind the prep is more than simply choosing a pretty pic of how we think they look, giving them a name and a job and thinking about their conflict.  Back in the day I used to create a questionnaire or interview them like I did with Quinn from Manhattan Boss, Diamond Proposal on EHarlequin.  Considering the hole I'm in now, it makes me wonder why I stopped doing it...

Thing is, I've learnt along the way there are often times the characters can surprise us and when they do it's more often than not a good thing. By telling us something we didn't know they're becoming more real. When thinking about the answer to Jill's question I took a closer look at my current hero and realized the reason he's been so uncooperative of late is because I'm trying to squoosh him into a box he doesn't fit. I'm leading him in a direction he doesn't want to take and until I start listening to what he's trying to tell me the man is refusing point blank to move forward. This is where being a pantster as opposed to a plotter should  come in handy, but if we've done a lot of prep-work it can be tough to let go of the pre-set image we have in our mind. By being flexible and allowing the characters to lead us in a direction we hadn't expected during a first draft we may end up with a different story but in my experience-so far!-it's been worth the risk. Remember a lot of the problems in our first draft can be corrected. It's all about getting the words down on the page!

Having said all that Jill, another suggestion may be that we didn't leave a question to be answered at the end of our last scene. The action and reaction rule is as important for writers while they write as it is for encouraging readers to keep reading. And on that note I might possibly have had an A-HA moment, so THANK YOU!

I hope that helps. If it's as clear as mud or you have another question let me know and I'll get right back to you. If anyone has anything else they'd like to ask, as always, let me know in the comments.

Meanwhile, for those of us #NotAtNationals, here's a taster of things we can be doing/studying and reading from the comfort of our homes to share in the spirit of the RWA Conference!


Today's schedule at the Romance Divas NGTCC:


Panel: A Year in the Life of a Self-Published Romance Author (with Cate Rowan, Tawny Stokes aka Vivi Anna, Tori Scott, and Anthea Lawson)

Workshop: Troubleshooting Plot and Character Arc (with Jodi Henley)

Workshop: Setting Up Mailchimp (with Jeanette Murray)

Workshop/Q&A: The Man’s Perspective (with David Bridger)

Workshop/Q&A: The NSFW Man’s Perspective (with David Bridger)

Event: Accepting pitches of 200-250 words. (with editor Ann Leveille of Ellora's Cave)

Event: Accepting two-paragraph pitches (with editors Gina Bernal, Alissa Davis, Mallory Braus and Deborah Nemeth of Carina Press)


Blogs You Might Have Missed On The Interweb:


Synopsis! What is it good for? Tips on communicating your story by Elizabeth Mazar

Traditional Publishing And Self-Publishing Are Not Mutually Exclusive by Joanna Penn

Lee Child Debunks the Biggest Writing Myths

Free Reads:

My 2009 short story, Manhattan Cinderella is still available at Eharlequin

Liz Fielding's short story Secret Wedding has recently completed at Eharlequin

And if you know of or can recommend any other free reads we'd love to hear about them!

See you tomorrow gang :)


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Attempting To Cure The Not At Nationals Blues.

Yes, it's that time of year again. Freshly scrubbed authors from all over the world are leaving their caves with an abundant supply of sparkly new shoes to wend their way across hill and dale to the annual gathering at the Romance Writers Of America conference, which this year is held in Anaheim, California.

Me & my girlies in Dallas 2007
I can still remember my first trip to Nationals back in 2007 when a wide-eyed Irish girl from the back of beyond somewhat nervously made her way to Dallas. I'd met fellow authors and some of the gorgeous M&B editors in London before but the RWA conference is something which needs to be experienced in order to understand why people return to it year after year after year. By the end of that first week I was exhausted, inspired, overflowing with information and had made friends for life, even if I knew I wouldn't see some of them very often. For anyone who hasn't been I can wholeheartedly recommend it!

Having said that, it's not a trip we can all make every year, so here I am at home fighting with a pair of uncooperative characters in a new book and living vicariously through my friends on Twitter via the #RWA12 hastag.  AGAIN. *sigh* Yes, I'm feeling a little blue...

So here's what I thought. Apart from stalking following my friends at Nationals and Re-Tweeting the news, how about those of us left behind keep each other company for the next few days? If you know of any online workshops, can recommend a great blog, have any questions you want to ask about writing or are currently working on a WIP and could do with some company to egg you on, just let me know in the comments or send a Tweet with the #NotAtNationals hashtag and we'll share in the conference spirit! To coincide with the Literacy signing tomorrow night if any authors have signed copies of books they'd like to give away let us know about those too. I'll be digging out a few, so watch this space!

In the meantime I'll kick things off by pointing you in the direction of the fabulous Romance Divas and their Not Going To Conference Conference 2012 (NGTCC). It has workshops galore and all you've got to do is sign in to the message board!

I'll see you tomorrow!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bet You Didn't See THAT Coming.

Today we're talking about unpredictability. Defining what it means seems a tad ironic, but here's the thing...

I don't think it means what some people think it means.

To illustrate the point I found this pic of an apple with an orange center and it got me thinking. Surely if you pick up an apple you do so because you want an apple? I know I would be surprised if I got an orange, but not necessarily in a good way. 

It could be argued romance novels have been around for so long there is no new way of telling a love story-two people meet and fall in love and they either get a happily ever after or they don't-but I don't think that's entirely true. At the very least it's an extremely simplified version of events. Fact is all stories have similarities but it doesn't mean they're all the same.

Let's look at another example. My latest TV obsession is Once Upon A Time. For anyone who hasn't seen it the quickest way of describing it is to say it's a fresh take on our favorite fairytales with a twist or two along the way-some more 'out there' than others. Personally I'm a Snow and Charming fan. Not so much a Mary-Margaret and David fan, but that's a whole other blog. The point I'm trying to make is the heart of the story remains the same. Snow and Charming still meet and fall in love but if we think this is the same Snow White and Prince Charming we've met countless times before, we'd be wrong. When we first meet Snow she's a thief-then we discover the prince isn't a prince after all. Doesn't stop us from expecting them to fall in love though, does it? Having said that when I went to see Snow White And the Huntsman I'd have been happy for Snow White to end up with Thor the huntsman instead of the 'prince' but again, that's a whole other blog.

The one thing we know for certain is readers pick up a book with an expectation of what they'll get. What we writers have to do is fulfil that expectation while at the same time supplying the one thing which keeps them turning the page into the wee small hours (or in the case of Once Upon A Time, tuning in each week to find out what happens next). With that in mind I want you to remember what we said in the last blog about the hook.

'In simple terms the hook leaves unanswered questions'. 

If the reader can predict the answers to those questions, they don't have a reason to keep reading. Make the answer something they didn't expect or were made unsure of along the way and we have the required element of unpredictability. In the words of lovely M&B editor Flo Nicholl:

'...it’s about taking the reader on a journey they haven’t been on before – even though the ultimate destination of a happy ever after remains the same, an unpredictable story offers an unexpected alternative route to this climax. '

For my money Snow and Charming are doing that in Once Upon A Time without being so far removed from my expectation it makes the story unrecognizable. That doesn't mean there aren't people who prefer something more traditional or some who would like to go even further outside the box. What it means is there's room for several different 'versions' and-hopefully-a market for them all. By inviting unpredictability the editors are encouraging us to be creative. As Flo says:

'What we’re interested in is how to deliver books that surprise you, thanks to thought-provoking, unanticipated characterisation, an unexpected story line or an amazingly different emotional conflict. '

In the last blog I talked a little about my thought process with this latest WIP, how the hero is an undercover cop and the obvious theme is identity. I said he has spent his life lying to people and pretending to be someone he’s not so I found myself asking how difficult that was and whether or not he’d got lost along the way. The obvious answer to the latter would be yes, he did, so guess what I'm going to do? But if it's not his problem then what is and is the theme still identity? I think it is. I'll leave it to you to guess why.

Bottom line: The outcome of the story may be exactly what we expect but the journey to get there and-more importantly-the characters taking it, aren't. We've got to mix things up a little. How far you decide to take it or how much you'll accept as a reader is up to you but as far as I'm concerned, make the characters unique and the story is too. I have to ask myself what makes them different before I begin to write. In the case of the pic above the reason it's pretending to be an apple=character motivation. What stops it from revealing it's an orange=inner conflict. If it's an apple that looks like an apple, smells like an apple, tastes like an apple and when we get below the surface it is an apple, there isn't much of a story to engage the reader.

Thoughts on why the orange is pretending to be an apple are welcomed in the comments, as are any questions you might have on the subject of unpredictability. Right now I have no idea what next week's topic might be, so feel free to make a few suggestions! And for those who haven't seen it, this is how Snow and Charming met in Once Upon A Time:


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

In The Beginning...


This week we're covering the long awaited (and long promised!) topic of beginnings, a subject close to my heart right now as I fight the good fight with the opening chapters of a new book.  Yes, it's another long one, so go get coffee.

Are we sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.

The opening chapters are one of the most important parts of a book to get right. For an unpublished author it's the partial (aka beginning) of their story which can grab an editor's attention. For a published author this portion of the story will determine whether a reader continues reading. Get it wrong here and it doesn't matter how good the rest of the story is-not if we've already lost our target audience!

Beginnings have always been a weak area for me, so I spent a lot of time reading books on craft and studying the work of authors I love and respect. For example, Fiona Harper did a fabulous set of Blogs on the three act structure at The Pink Heart Society, the subject of beginnings covered here– and if there was ever a girl who can grab your attention from the first page...

Not so long ago I posted a series of Blogs on the basic ingredients of opening chapters, which you can find on the Writing Tips page of my website under the heading 'Book Beginnings'.  What this Blog will (hopefully) do is go into a little more detail-or at the very least give you a glimpse of how my mind works as I get ready to start a new story. With that series in mind I'll use the same headings to break it down with examples of my thought process for this current WIP.

1/ The Inciting Incident

The inciting incident is the moment when something important happens. Think of it as a catalyst for change. Typically it's when the characters meet or see each other differently for the first time. The rest of the story unfolds from this point, both externally and, more importantly, internally. When it came to planning my current story I therefore had to think of something which would allow my characters to meet. I knew my hero was an undercover cop. By making my heroine a police psychologist he's forced to talk to before he can go undercover again, I have my starting point.

2/ Introduction To The Characters.

This is more than visual; it's who the characters are when the story begins. I like to think of this in the way we were taught to conduct a chemistry experiment in school: without a baseline we can't demonstrate how much things have changed after we change the conditions.  In the beginning my undercover cop is determined he doesn't have any problems. It's only through the sessions with my heroine we begin to see how messed up he is and get to watch him work his way through it.  

3/ The External Problem.

This is the plot which carries the story forward and gives our characters a reason to spend time together, something which is especially important when they may be reluctant to change.  I know my hero has been forced into therapy sessions with my heroine so I'll begin with him trying to wriggle his way out of it. After all, he doesn't have a problem-so why would he need therapy? Unfortunately for him, my heroine refuses to sign off on the sessions unless he attends them.

4/ The Internal Problem.

Though not revealed to us in its entirety at the beginning of the story, without this our characters are unable to begin their emotional journey. My cop will initially be in denial so I have to hint at the problem for the reader without giving too much away. Getting to the internal problem is what is often referred to as peeling an onion. We do this layer by layer, so in the beginning we’re often faced with that crispy protective barrier. It’s an apt description if you think about it; do it right and we should shed a few tears somewhere along the way too. I can never peel an onion without doing that!

5/ Foreshadowing.

This is a way of giving the reader a glimpse of what's to come. It may be a moment when the hero and heroine briefly connect with the kind of understanding which doesn't make sense to them yet. It may be a hint of the aforementioned internal problem. In the case of the book I’m working on it appears in a seemingly throwaway comment which triggered a moment of inspiration for something later in the story. I don’t always plan these and frequently have to add them at the editing stage. Sometimes, like this time, it’s an ‘a-ha’ moment creatively, so it can be a bit of a chicken-and-the-egg scenario.

6/ Setting.

From the get-go we need the story to have a sense of time and place. As I mentioned in the Blogs I did for the basic ingredients of opening chapters I like to think of it like a stage play. The setting is the backdrop. The readers focus should be on the characters centre stage. Having said that we can use the setting to add to the story in other ways, e.g.: my hero in this book is restless-his devil-may-care attitude a front he is finding increasingly hard to maintain. By trapping him within the four walls of an office environment he may pace like a caged animal, remaining distrustful of his ‘keeper’. Free him from that cage and the theory is he will open up. For some characters trapping them in an environment where they are forced to face up to their feelings for one another can also be an effective use of setting, as can using things like seasons and the weather to mirror the characters emotional state.

7/ Tone.

Everyone has a rhythm. Take out everything but the dialogue and we should still be able to work out which one of the characters is talking. It’s the same with the narrative and the author’s voice. We may not always realize it when we’re reading a story but every author has a certain way of phrasing things and a pattern to the narrative which is as individual as the characters speech. These things remain constant throughout but by changing the mood we can have characters who normally stick to short, succinct sentences talk for longer at a crucial moment and it will have more impact because we know it’s not ‘like them’. The most important thing is everything has to make sense and the only way we can do that is by having a ‘norm’ in the beginning. My hero in this book has a tendency to answer a question with another question. It’s a classic avoidance technique. By having him do it from the start we’ll always know when he doesn’t want to talk about something.

8/ Back-Story.

Technically speaking the beginning of our story doesn’t start at the beginning. What we’re doing is jumping into the pre-existing story of our characters lives at the precise moment when something important is about to happen. It’s the same when we meet someone new for the first time. We don’t know everything  but as we get to know them better, we begin to understand them. For that reason when we start our story it is placed in the here-and-now with the equivalent of ‘on-the-spot’ news reports as events unfold. The only part of a character’s history we absolutely can’t do without is the event which left them wary of emotional involvement, everything else is of secondary importance. But either way it’s something which gets threaded through the story as it continues. In the first chapter of my current WIP I’ll let the reader know what both characters do for a living, their names and why they’re there but beyond that their back-story is barely mentioned, if at all.

9/ Theme.

Whether we realize it or not, every story has one. We tend to gravitate towards certain themes and for me they are mostly along the lines of family and home. I’m often drawn to the same things in the books I read and films I watch; the scope broadening to include how people become part of a makeshift family or stand up to defend their homes. I’ll be honest and say I don’t always know what the theme of my story is until halfway through a manuscript but in this case I knew from the moment my hero appeared in my mind. Since he’s an undercover cop the obvious theme is identity. He has spent his life lying to people and pretending to be someone he’s not so I found myself asking how difficult that was and whether or not he’d got lost along the way.

10/ The Hook.

In simple terms the hook leaves unanswered questions. With this current story I want the reader to ask what happened to my hero to make his superiors insist he talk to a therapist and even if I answer that question by chapter two I’ll want them to know more. By making his problem something which isn’t easily resolved the characters have something to work their way through. Add more problems to the mix and the conflict heightens which in turn leaves more questions to be answered. It’s action and reaction and in the beginning of the story it’s our job to set the ball rolling.


Frequently I’ll find as the story continues and I get to know the characters better I can go back and strengthen the opening-that's why I still believe one of the best pieces of advice I was given before submitting was to finish the manuscript first. Over the years-and as I start my 23rd book-I like to hope I’ve become more aware of my weaknesses and know where to focus my attention. I’ll re-write the first three chapters more than any other part of the book but when it’s so important to get it right, it’s time well spent. Maybe at some point I'll show you the differences between first, second and finished drafts. Let me know if you might find that helpful.

Next time we’re talking about the latest buzz-word: Unpredictability

In the meantime if  you have questions on beginnings, my thought process for this new story, next week’s subject or suggestions for future topics, let me know in the comments.

Have a great week gang!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

What makes a hero?

So now I finally have a reliable Internet connection out here in the middle of nowhere, it's time to sweep the dust off the blog and get going again. Since I've just started a new book, I thought I'd chat about some of the things I've been thinking about lately (including the long-awaited topic of Beginnings which is up next!). 

Keeping in mind how long I've been offline, it's only fair I warn you it's a long one. Go get coffee!  

Today we're talking heroes. When I looked up the definition of the word at dictionary.com one of them was: 

A person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal.

 For me one of the key statements in there is "in the opinion of others" because, let's face it, we all have our own ideal. All a writer can do is tap into what are generally considered some of the key elements, expanding on the character with traits they personally consider heroic. The hope is that readers will agree, though that isn't always the case.With that in mind I'm going to list some of the things I like to think all my romance heroes have in common. Feel free to add to the list in the comments. I'll be fascinated to hear your thoughts! 
  • Code of Honor 
A hero will possess a strong set of values which even when tested will remain unshakable. By maintaining his integrity we'll know he's someone who can be relied on when things get tough. This is a man with strong personal beliefs who is prepared to stand up for them. If he bales at any point it's only because he thinks it's the right/honorable thing to do.
  • Inner Strength 
 As strong as he may be physically, it's a hero's inner strength which will carry him through the most difficult times. Even if the problem he's facing is something which will test him to his limit, he'll dig deep and tap into a reserve he might not have known was there. The obvious way to help create conflict is to introduce into the story the one thing which will demonstrate his weakness but the harder he has to fight for his reward, the more we'll want him to get it. 
  •  Determination
 This guy doesn't give up easily. When he makes up his mind he wants something he'll move heaven and earth to get it. In moments of weakness, or when he has doubts, determination (combined with the next trait) will give him the impetus to continue. Without it he might use his inner strength to hold his ground and defend his position, stopping the story from moving forward and making it impossible for the character to grow. 
  • Courage
 A hero has courage in the face of adversity. It's not just a case of stepping up to the plate, what makes him brave-and therefore heroic-is he sets his fears aside and is prepared to risk everything without any guarantee of success. If he doesn't succeed at the first attempt or keeps fighting when it seems all is lost it just makes us love him even more. 
  • Inspirational
Through his actions a hero will inspire others to mirror the traits they most admire; the aforementioned courage, determination and having the strength to keep going when things get tough being prime examples of universally aspirational qualities. The theory here is whoever ends up with our hero will be better off with him in their life. If they aren't then the ending of the story won't make for much of a Happily Ever After. 
  • Attractive
Biologically speaking we aren't typically drawn to mate with the weakest of the species, which for my money is a big part of the reason why alpha males are so prevalent as heroes in romance novels. But while there's no arguing some of the attraction is purely physical, a hero possesses a combination of elements which allow his relationship with the heroine to develop from 'infatuation' to 'consummate love' in psychology terms. The latter is a total package of passion, deep emotional intimacy and commitment. In order to get there the hero must be attractive on more than one level. This may well prove the subject of most debate (refer back to the above definition of a hero and the point made about an an 'ideal') but here I would list things like a sense of humor, intelligence, integrity, dependability, trustworthiness, etc..
  •  Flawed
Although it seems like a contradiction when compared to all the positive qualities I've listed, if a hero is too perfect it is difficult for us to connect to him. He may be arrogant, cocky, stubborn and intractable-he may even be ruthless, vengeful and have anger management issues (traits which we don't tend to admire)-but by having a rational explanation for these flaws we can forgive a lot, or at the very least understand why they are there. Make him succeed despite his flaws and he's still considered heroic, especially if he's become aware of them and made a effort to correct his behavior. 
  • Wounded
Every hero has been damaged at some point prior to the beginning of the story. Whether caused by a broken heart, a sense of loss, abandonment, betrayal or guilt (or any number of other things), the emotional scars run deep and cause him to erect a protective inner 'wall' to guard against further damage. This not only makes him human and garners empathy, it also provides one of the key elements for telling a story; an emotional journey. In a romance this begins when he meets someone he perceives as a threat to his defences, escalates the conflict when he tries to protect himself by pushing them away, heightens the risk when his protective walls are breached and ultimately allows him to become a more heroic figure when he battles through his issues to emerge victorious. By the end of this journey he will be emotionally healed, learned something from the experience and grown as a character. 



Of course all this holds as true for a heroine as it is does for a hero but having said that it's NOT a formula. Make the characters too similar and it's difficult to create conflict. Make them too dissimilar and there's a very good chance never the twain shall meet. In real life we tend to be drawn to like-minded people-and there's nothing wrong with that!-but mix with people who have different perspectives and we have a greater chance to grow. For that reason I like to aim for a happy medium with my fictional characters, or at the very least balance them out enough to 'fill in the gaps'. 

When I asked my friends on Twitter what they thought made a hero they brought up some interesting points. 

@CertainshadesL said: humility. Humor. Warmth. Smart. Not damaged in some cliche way.

Having said I'll add a flaw like arrogance to my hero it might seem like I disagree with him having humility but that's not true at all. If I have a hero who is arrogant, I like to think my heroine will teach him a little humility. At the same time I tend to make him humble about the things he should be proud of. It's that balance thing again-even if it's a little out of whack. Humor is high on my list, as people who know me are well aware! Warmth is another one we can play around with. Our hero may be cold at the beginning, but there will be a reason for it. When we get glimpses of warmth it makes us look at him differently and question why he can be so cold. Once we have an answer, we can begin to understand his conflict. Smart I think stems back to that 'mate with the strongest of the species' element of attraction. The hunter who could work out how to outwit his prey was more likely to provide for his family and no matter how far we've evolved, intelligence is still key to our survival. The last comment is so important it's worth a paragraph all of its own... 

When I first started my writing career my good friend Natasha Oakley and I used to joke about the body count in our books. She was particularly good at killing babies. My forte was, and remains to be, parents. But these days-and as CertainshadesL has just proved-readers expect more. Unpredictable has become the name of the game in romance writing. In New York's Finest Rebel my hero has PTSD and as a Marine Reserve who has just returned from a war zone the assumption is something happened to him when he was overseas. Not true but I'll not spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it yet. Avoiding cliches isn't easy, but finding a way of making something a tad different, unexpected or adding a new twist is something I think we should always try to do. Whether or not we always succeed in the eyes of a reader is another matter entirely.

 @baudyhallee  said: Heroes have a sense of purpose in life even if it's not all encompassing yet. They grow. They influence. Hope is involved.

I totally agree with all of this but want to focus on the last statement in particular. For me, this is one of the key elements of a story whether it's a romance or has romantic elements. Every one of us pick up a book with an expectation of what we'll get from it-it's the reason series romances are marketed in groups with a specific kind of cover to make it easier for readers to find them. When we're introduced to a hero and heroine in a romance the expectation is they'll end up together, so technically speaking there is a sense of hope from the beginning. But that's not what we're talking about here. I think what we're talking about is the hope for a future beyond the end of the story. If we see people battle their inner demons and overcome the odds it gives us hope we can do the same thing-which brings us back to the point of a hero inspiring others. From that point of view their influence stretches further than the fictional characters who inhabit the world they live in. What it means is they have connected with the reader. Manage that and the writer has done their job. 

If anyone has any questions or wants to expand on/disagree with anything I've said just leave me a comment. Same goes for any topics you'd like me to cover after the subject of Beginnings which I SWEAR is up next!