Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Deadline Day!

First - I need to thank everyone who showed up to the FaceBook launch and also to the folks who ventured out to the library to meet me live and in person! I hope you all enjoy Return to Hoffman Grove and I'm looking forward to reading the reviews on what you thought of it! I will continue to share my royalties (ebook and paperback) with the Community Crisis Center through July 1 of next year, so if you like the book, recommend it to a friend and support a good cause while you're at it.

I'm going to let you in on a secret: one of my male coworkers stopped by my desk to congratulate me on my sixth release and told me he planned to buy a couple of my books to find out about my writing. Here's the secret. I'm always surprised when a man wants to read my books. Not that men don't appreciate romance, but because it is so much a woman's genre that I'm always caught a little off guard. I did warn him (because I didn't want him to be surprised), along with a reminder that I write FICTION. It's all made up.

And speaking of work, today is deadline day. I'm not ashamed to tell you that many of my posts are written ahead of time and post on a schedule. This has certainly been an exciting week for me, with the book launch, the book signing and assorted out-of-town visitors added in. Oh, and did I mention the deadline? (oh, I did. Sorry.) And so this post is auto-launching while I am no doubt pulling my hair out and trying to maintain a semblance of order to the chaos that accompanies these days. Fortunately, I have a well-developed (if not overdeveloped) sense of order.

Next week I'll dive back into the second of the Kundigerin trilogy. And no, that's not procrastination, that's me trying to keep up with everything without losing my mind. The story is coming along nicely, I'm past the halfway point, but I need "alone time" with it. It's time for the antagonist to get nasty, and that always causes me a little turmoil. Once my life settles again, rest assured I will go full speed ahead with the writing. I've reserved a spot with the editor, so I have a deadline to meet.

Holiday season anyone?  Oh. Sorry. Sarcasm. It's all good. Just a little high-stress for a little while. I'll be back next week, hopefully without a straight jacket....

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Character interview - Brody Parkhill

Return to Hoffman Grove will be available for sale in just a few short days! (Sunday, to be exact.) Until then, you can pre-order the ebook for $0.99 at the links to the right. After that, it will sell for $3.99.

In preparation for the launch, I'm interviewing the hero of the book, Brody Parkhill. (No, he's not a real person. Yes, this is slightly schizophrenic, but this is how I find out more about my characters.)

Me: Hi! I'm so glad you could join us today. We met Cinda and Audrey in Living Canvas, but your name never came up. How do you know the ladies?

BP: We all went to high school together. In fact, Cinda was my best friend back then, but after graduation, I went out into the world "to seek my fortune." The rest of the gang I used to hang out with all stayed around town.

Me: You said Cinda was your best friend. How did you meet her?

BP: We played on a co-ed tennis team every summer, from junior high into high school. She and I used to compete for the tops spots on the team, and we occasionally played mixed doubles to break a tie at the tennis meets.

Me: It was the tennis that drew you together?

BP: Well, not really. I mean we had that in common, but it wasn't until I found out what an idiot  her father was that I actually noticed her. He gave her a hard time when she didn't win, chastised her for not being good enough, when she was actually damn good. I know what that feels like. I had a rough time with my dad, too. I guess I felt sorry for her, and once we started talking to each other, we realized we had more in common than we thought.

Me: So you started dating?

BP: {chuckles} We never dated back then. We were both too screwed up to attempt any sort of mature relationship. Mostly, we went out with our group of friends to commiserate about our dysfunctional home lives. For some of us, living through the day was an accomplishment. Add in teenage insecurities, lack of self-confidence, those things make it hard to maintain an emotional commitment.

Me: It says here you were gone for nine years, that no one knew what happened to you except your mother. Why didn't you keep in touch with your friends?

 BP: I was a bit of a hot-head. My temper got the better of me more often that I would have liked. I quit the tennis team when my closest opponent won the scholarship I wanted, and he got it because of my bad temperament. I started running instead, cutting myself off from everybody so they wouldn't see me as a loser. Whenever I tried to let Cinda know how I really felt about her, she used to joke and laugh me off. I figured that was her way of telling me she wasn't interested. It was easier to walk away than be rejected.

Me: But when you told her you were going to move away, didn't she ask to go with you?

BP: Have you seen her? The woman flips my switches. I couldn't live with her and maintain a platonic relationship, and if I pressed the issue, I would have lost my best friend. No, for the the same reason I quit tennis and took up running, I figured I'd be better on my own. I learned how to control my temper better when I was alone.

Me: I'm hearing that you had a few outbursts after your return to town though.

BP: {chuckles again} Yeah, well. After I left town, I didn't care enough about anything to get myself worked up. I didn't know anyone, didn't take the time to get to know anyone when I moved away. When I came home, my emotions rose right back to the surface.

Me:  Once a hot-head, always a hot-head?

BP: I prefer to think of myself as passionate, now. I know how to control my temper.

Me:  You have some friends who have tangled with domestic violence. Do you ever worry that your temper will push you too far and you might hurt the people you love?

BP: Absolutely not. I've found other outlets for my anger. I would never intentionally hurt the people I love. Anyone who threatens me and those people is another matter. I went a long time without my friends and family. I'd do whatever was necessary to protect them now that I have them back.

Me:  And you and Cinda?

BP: Man, she was mad at me for leaving her behind! I had no idea. I really didn't think she'd even notice I was gone. She has a passionate nature, too, and that bubbled up when we ran into each other again after all these years. I probably should have guessed right away from her reaction that she was fighting the same emotions I did. If she didn't care about me, she wouldn't have been so angry that I'd gone, right? All I can say is as much as I never thought I'd step foot in my home town again, I found out a lot about myself, including it's all right to be a hot-head sometimes. It's better than being numb, walking through life not feeling anything and not caring about anyone.

Me: Welcome back to Hoffman Grove, Brody!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Plotting and the Ability to be Flexible

The classic debate - plotter or pantser? Do you plan every inch of a new book when you start or write by the seat of your pants.

For me, I do a bit of both. When I first start out, it's an idea. A concept. It can start with something as simple as something I see (Heart for Rent, with an Option started from a walk through a French market in Aix). Then I build a story around it, and sometimes that initial inspiration is barely included in the end result. But it is the impetus. With that being said, I am a pantser. At least at the onset of each book. Somewhere along the line, I'm forced to plot to give the story direction.

Working on Kundigerin 2, the second in the Mist on the Meadow trilogy. I posted a couple weeks back that the story was taking me into different directions, that the characters were getting pushy. Yesterday I discovered something. My intended hero wasn't pulling his weight. Nothing like a road block to stop forward momentum! These are the points where I usually stop writing to plot. Enough writing by the seat of my pants--where is this story going? Oh, I know where the story is going. The general plot is clear, along with the plot for Book 3, but my hero? He doesn't have anything to do. Well, that's not entirely true, but he doesn't have enough to do. And then the next plot twist came to me. This isn't what I expected at all! And yet, deep down, I knew. As a writer, you always know. From the beginning, one of the characters has been giving me those sly looks that say, "you know I'm going to to take center stage. I'll just wait until you figure it out."

In my humble opinion, being a pantser works fine for the onset of a story. It is when I'm my most creative. But in nearly every story I've written, there comes a point when you need to pull it into focus. Identify the theme, the goals, the motivations, the conflicts, and lay them in a cohesive form. That's when the plotting takes over, and for me, I find that often my brain is pre-plotting during that pantser stage. Then again, sometimes I have to go back and pull out the stitches in the story and reweave them. Authors often have enough innate ability to direct their story, and some have to work harder at it than others. My process works for me, but other people I know balk at the idea. Some need more structure, the outline. Even with the outline and the framework laid out, a story will often redirect itself once the words begin to multiply on the page.

This is where flexibility comes in.

The new development in my latest writing endeavor is causing me a lot of heartache. Not that I don't like what's happening, but that it requires more from me, the author, to present it well. It's a challenge. The fact that it intrigues me, the author, gives me hope that it will strike a similar chord in my readers.

You know the old saying, Life doesn't always turn out the way you planned it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A little background on the new book

Return to Hoffman Grove is available on Amazon for pre-order. I'm expecting to launch it on October 12. The pre-order price is $0.99, and once it goes live, the price will increase to $3.99. It should start showing up at all the other outlets as well.

My editor thought it might be nice if I included a Reader's Note at the beginning, but I wasn't sure how much that would add. So I'm going to put all of that here, on the blog, and if you think it would help, I can add it to the final version of the book before it goes "live." (Your comments below are welcome.)

First - let me tell you that I changed the working title from "Rekindling" to "Return to Hoffman Grove." The reasons are odd, but it seemed to be the right thing to do.

Second - The book touches on the subject of domestic violence. While I was researching, I went to visit the local crisis center. The story is Cinda and Brody's, but they have a group of friends, and one of those friends is in trouble. I have some personal experience, and you'd be surprised how many people do. I was lucky. It's an experience I wouldn't want to relive. With that being said, I am donating fifty percent of the royalties through July 2015 from sales of Return to Hoffman Grove to the crisis center to help other people who aren't as lucky as I was.

Third - Way back when, I wanted to be a professional tennis player when I grew up. I played hard, I played often. I lived on the tennis court. Every story has a little piece of myself inside it, and in this one, its the tennis. One of my critique partners, along with my editor, made comments about tennis being a "civilized" sport, and Brody, being a hot-head, doesn't fit the mold. I grew up with Ilie Nastase, Jimmy Connors, and John McEnroe, the consummate bad-boys of tennis. In my personal experience, I used to play with someone who I modeled Brody after (in temperament only, the rest of it is fictionalized, folks). The part where Brody throws a tennis racket into the fence? That actually happened. Beyond that, I didn't know the real-life model well enough to tell you any more about his life, so any additional parallels are completely made-up. Cinda is a little wacko, she needed someone equally wacko to complement her. Because I was drawing on my "glory days" (and the tennis is only shown in back story/flashbacks, so it isn't a major theme in this story), I wanted to also pay homage to the "civilized" guy on the tennis team, the guy always battling the hot-head for the top spot. Paul Kelly was a good guy, an outstanding tennis player, who died too young. I'm dedicating Return to Hoffman Grove to Paul Kelly.

Return to Hoffman Grove focuses on Cinda and Brody, succeeding against the odds, recapturing a close friendship and taking it to the next level. Here's the blurb:

After nine years away, a business venture forces Brody Parkhill to return to his home town. Trying to determine whether the building he’s been sent to assess would be a viable project for his boss, he is surprised to discover it houses a women’s crisis center. Further complicating his job, members of his old high school gang are involved in the center’s operations—the same friends he ran out on all those years ago. His boss questions where Brody’s loyalties lie and ultimately fires him. With no more to offer Cinda Cooper, the girl he left behind, than when he was a hot-headed teen, Brody must find a way to regain his job, save the center, and win her back.

The last person Cinda Cooper expected to see after a night out was her best friend from high school, Brody Parkhill, the one who was supposed to help her escape her troubled home life. The one she hasn’t seen or heard from for nine years. But she’s too busy dealing with escalating acts of violence to deal with her feelings for him. Could these crimes have anything to do with Brody’s return to town? Or has her past caught up with her? 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The end of summer

I'm a summer person. I like the warm/hot weather. Here in Chicago, we went from consistent 80 degree temperatures one day to 60 the next, for the next 10 days, at least, right up to the start of autumn. We've had a good run as far as summers go. The grass never died, which is a typical by-product of the climate in this part of the country. Generally, we have a couple of dry months. This year, we have a surfeit of rain. The temperatures have been comfortable (although the humidity has been worse than usual). And so we begin the descent into the cool months.

Summer is my most productive writing time by virtue of my day job. Shorter hours, less overtime give me the opportunity to put that time to better use. While I do write year round, there are more scheduling issues in the spring. And the winter? That's when I binge read. I curl up inside with a good book. Oh sure, I read in the summer. And that's when I prefer paperbacks, because I can take them out onto the deck and enjoy the sun, or a cool evening. Being fair-skinned, I have to limit my time outside (and its so easy to lose track of time when I read!)

The new book is back from the editor. I'm planning a launch party on FaceBook, but I don't have a release date yet (still hoping for October), so stay tuned. In the meantime, I'm running a special on Living Canvas for Nook at Barnes and Noble for 99 cents (if you don't have a Nook, you can download the Nook App) in preparation for the release. You don't have to read Living Canvas to appreciate Return to Hoffman Grove (formerly known as Rekindling), however Cinda wanted her own book, so you'll see her stepping out of Living Canvas to take the stage.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What is a formula novel?

Thanks, @N.J. Qualls for pointing out that people would like to know more about formula writing.

In my last post, I mentioned that I have some favorite authors who follow a formula, and I still love every single one of their books. What exactly does this mean?

Formula fiction, simply put, can be defined as storylines and plots that have been reused to the extent that the narratives are predictable.

Victoria Holt was my introduction to formula novels. Basically, every book she wrote was about an orphan, or a heroine who would soon be orphaned, from low birth (gothic novels). Often her best friend was someone of a higher station whose life she was able to be a part of, whether through sharing a tutor or what-have-you. In the end, she marries the man of higher station (governess marries employer, privileged friend's brother), even though she isn't sure if he's done something notoriously bad. Like kill his first wife, or commit some other murder, or somesuch. In fact, the orphaned heroine usually chooses the guy she's less sure of over the "nice guy by default." The names are changed, the setting changes from manor house to manor house, but the general plot is formula. Yet, every story has it's own set of characters with slightly altered circumstances. Until recently, I hadn't seen anyone do it as well.

Jill Shalvis's heroes all tend to be "Alpha" males, macho guys with high power jobs and a soft side, looking for a simpler life. The storylines consist of a woman (or man) down on their luck who find themselves, through whatever circumstances, in small town America. They often have a dark/troubled past that they must overcome and meet someone they share such chemistry with that they can't control themselves. Determined NOT to fall in love, they somehow always find their happily ever after. And I have loved every incarnation of this formula that I have read so far.

The basic story is essentially the same. The key to writing a good "formula" novel lies in your depth of character. Make your reader care about the character and how much it costs them to be vulnerable. They're all walking the same road. It's their journey that drives the story.

If the plot of every one of an author's books is essentially the same--only the names have been changed to protect the innocent--you'll see that they're using a formula. I can only imagine Victoria Holt sitting down to write a novel and saying to herself, "What kind of trouble will my orphan get into this time?" Or Jill Shalvis saying to herself, "Who's running away from their past today?" Some people see that as a condemnation to the author's work. For me, it's sticking with something that works, and these two ladies I've cited today did a beautiful job of making it work -- at least for me!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

My Outlander Obsession. What makes a novel great?

I've written about Outlander before - about the series of books by Diana Gabaldon that consumed me during a very difficult phase of my life. The same books that sent me to Scotland in search of standing stones and castles an in inhospitable climate. And I think I mentioned that I was anxiously awaiting the debut of the new television series based on those books.

For what it's worth, the series is every bit as intriguing as the books, with the one exception being that I didn't learn enough Gaelic to even begin to understand what they're saying half the time. I wished for subtitles, and then I decided that in the books, Claire didn't know what they were saying either, and the series is filmed from Claire's point of view. So I don't suppose I need to know what they're saying. The message is the same.

What makes these books so enthralling? As an author, I pay attention when something grabs me. That's something I want to replicate in my books, that feeling of wanting to know these characters and live their lives, even in a climate that doesn't appeal to me in the slightest. What is it about these books (and I'm limiting "these" to her first two books, because beyond that I didn't feel the same connection)?

Plain and simple? It's the characters. They were three dimensional, perfectly drawn. We "see" them, from detailed outward descriptions to every facet of their personality. The hero is larger than life, you see him strong, vulnerable, witty, charming, stubborn. He's fiercely loyal, compassionate and an outlaw. And the heroine? Pretty much the same. Tough as nails, beautifully feminine, single-minded, adaptable, witty, out of her element. And that might be why the later books don't work for me. She's no longer out of her element, and because of her strong character, she has mastered her situation.

Then there's the sense of setting. As a reader, I felt the cold in my bones, saw the snow falling, the dark of the forest, the pokes of hay. Those two books described Scotland as desolate with a climate that would scare most people off. And I wanted to go.

Note to self. Characterization and setting are critical.

Another movie that I found to be a perfect example of plot was "Brave." A Disney movie, it demonstrated perfectly how to combine love and hate into one person to create the perfect conflict. When I walked out of that theater, I told my husband, "Now that's how it's done!"

These are things we strive for as authors. To engage our audience, and sometimes it requires using a trope. Sometimes it requires strong characters. I have friends who subscribe to a formula when they write (and I'm not talking about formulaic novels, I'm talking about the process more than the story). That approach leaves me cold. I'm a seat of the pants type writer, following my gut. I'm not going to stop along the way, as a meme I saw recently said, to make sure I inserted the proper elements at the proper points. I tend to follow by example. I know where I need to go, I know how I need to get there. I'm not going to interrupt the process to check the map. I'd rather enjoy the ride.

One last note. I've recently been binge reading books that follow a formula. Victoria Holt followed a formula. I grew up with her books and read every one I could get my hands on. Likewise, I will probably read every book Jill Shalvis writes. I like the formula. And yes, it gets old after a while and I'll need a break eventually, but right now I'm eating them up. The basic plot is the same, with a change in occupation and circumstance. And every one of them has been satisfying to read. (warning: they are Steamy).

I've tucked all this experience away, hoping I can create the same type of magic with the characters I write. I know I've connected with them, and I hope I can write them in such a way that you connect with them, too.