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.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

When a Story Takes on a Life of its Own

When I sit down to write a story, generally I have an impression, a direction. Something inspires me and I run with it. Sometimes the conflict is obvious, sometimes not so much. Sometimes I have to take time out to map the story to make sure I don't run off into nowhere, writing something boring.

For the sequel to Mist on the Meadow, I have my map. I know where I want to take it, what questions I need to answer from the first in the series. This series is a continuing saga--a trilogy--from the first book, where Marissa finds out she's "special," to what that means, to what she can do with it. Each book will take us to the ultimate conclusion, which is basically "what does she need her special skills for?" And each book will focus on a different character in their circle.

I've made good progress in the second installment, and thought I had the story headed the right direction, when suddenly Wolf and Marissa hijacked it. This isn't their story (although they are critical to the plot). And I found out something about the characters that I didn't know before. The story has taken on a life of its own and the characters are showing me things I didn't expect.

Plot twist!

First thing I have to do is wrestle control back from Wolf and Marissa. This isn't their story, but they did show me what I needed to know to move forward. So now I have to go back and pick up the broken parts, where they kicked this story's main character to the side, and have her assert her control. And it makes for better conflict.

This is the point when I'm writing that I'm frustrated and thrilled, both at the same time. Frustrated, because things aren't turning out the way I planned, thrilled, because the characters have taken on a life of their own. Looking back, I see a trend. I'm about a quarter of the way into the story. This same thing happened with Heart for Rent, where something I planned took on a whole new meaning. I planned the stranger in the park, but by the time I wrote him, he turned into someone else. It threw me for a loop, and in that book, it complicated my process.

As I write this book, I'm excited by the turn of events. Sometimes the best things are the things you least expect. If the characters can surprise me, the author, hopefully they can surprise the reader, as well. And that makes the book more interesting to read! Mist on the Meadow has been a fun series to write - combining my love of romance with my love of the supernatural and creating my own German Fairy Tale.

Back to it. Time to politely tell Wolf and Marissa to step back and let the other character have her book, while at the same time thanking them for showing me something I didn't know before.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

In case you thought I was slacking off on the writing stuff

My editor has finished her first pass on Rekindling and I am busily working out the kinks. And in case you think I've been doing NOTHING during the editor's perusal, NOT SO.

I'm putting down the sequel to Mist on the Meadow, which I am tentatively calling "Gathering Mist." For those of you who have read MOTM, you'll know that it includes that paranormal element along with suspense, not to mention the German folklore piece. Now that you've met Marissa and know about her special talents, you're going to find out what she's going to use them for, along with answering the question, "what's up with Wolf?" The suspense will escalate as they move through this second book in the series, resolving the crisis at hand only to be staring at an event bigger crisis in the third installment (but I'm getting ahead of myself).

In spite of taking some time away from my computer, as you've seen in my recent posts, I continue to hone my craft, mostly because there's always a story buzzing around inside my head. The "down time" is essential to focus -- Rekindling is taking a little longer because I haven't had the "refresh and restore" time. Now that I've given myself that time, I'm ready to tackle my edits and take what I believe is a good story and make it much better (giving a nod to my patient editor who probably thinks I write like a schmo). Even with a straight line while I was writing, even with defined characters, I second-guessed myself too often (lack of down time results in angst and indecision) and the story suffered for it. I'm ready with the lemon Pledge now.

Gathering Mist is spilling onto the page like a broken water main, so after I've switched focus to address the final edits to Rekindling, the long-awaited sequel to Mist on the Meadow shouldn't be far behind.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

(Vintage) Book Stores

Nestled down along the river in the city where I live there is a bookstore where they sell used and vintage books. Very simply named. Tucked back on a street people have to use intentionally. I stopped in for a visit the other day.

Appleton's Fourth Reader
The front of the store is mainly a children's section, and ducking into the first room (it is divided into rooms) the first thing that caught my eye (at my eye level, anyway) was a series of Tarzan, the Ape Man books. In hard covers. To which I found myself whispering, "Cool!" Each room was a new discovery, not only of current books (they had an impressive Lee Child selection) but of old, out of print books. With hard covers. Do they even make books with hard covers anymore? And I started to think. Nostalgia set in. I have a collection of hard cover books, not nearly of the same vintage, but I also have my grandmother's primer - Now that's a vintage book. What are we leaving for our children?

My kids read Goosebumps and Bailey Street School Kids (which they had in this bookstore), all of which were released in paperback. A large portion of my bookshelves holds paperback copies, some of which are not withstanding the ravages of time as well as others. I just can't imagine my kids walking up to that bookshelf one day and saying, "Wow, remember when books were made like this?" About paperbacks.

Running off on a tangent for a moment (to make a point, of course). I used to watch Night Gallery, and One Step Beyond, and The Sixth Sense, and The Twilight Zone. There was an episode where Burgess Meredith (an old actor, for those of you too young to recognize the name) was a very myopic man living with a henpecking wife. All he wanted to do was read his books, but his wife kept nagging him to take out the garbage or do everyday life kind of things. And then (remember that many of these shows were set in the 50's, which I'll take a second to note predates me) someone drops a bomb. Literally. The earth is destroyed and Old Burge finds he's the only one who survived the cataclysm. So as he stumbles through the rubble that was once his town, he finds the library. And a mountain of books. All alone in a world with nothing but books to keep him company. And he's ecstatic! Until . . . (this is the Twilight Zone after all), he drops his glasses and inadvertently steps on them. Blind without them, he's now stuck in a world where he can't see, surrounded by the things he loves most and unable to read. Utopia turns into hell with one careless step.

Bringing this all together folks. Walking into that bookstore, I thought about that TV show. About the comforting feeling of finding an old book that I might have read once upon a time. What a cool bookstore! And now? If the bomb drops? With our book collections becoming more and more electronic, we will become like Burgess Meredith. Kindle or Nook in hand, but after a cataclysm and potentially without electricity, that book collection will be rendered unreadable.

Yeah, that's just the way my mind works sometimes. Kinda scary, isn't it? And that's why I continue to buy "real" books from time to time. Generally only the ones I really loved and would read again and again (and yes, my bookshelves are full). Even as paperbacks instead of hard covers, sometimes there's nothing like the feel of a real book in your hand.

"Blessings on thee little man . . " - John G. Whittier