Jeanne: Rewrite the Stars

Rewrite the Stars, the debut novel of Christina Consolino, will be released next Thursday, March 18th. To kick it off, she is giving away a signed copy to a lucky Eight Ladies’ reader in the U.S. or an ebook anywhere worldwide.

Sadie Rollins-Lancaster is legally separated from Theo, her husband of fifteen years. Because of Theo’s PTSD, they still share a house and responsibility for their three children, who range in age from eighteen months to eleven years. Neither is in any hurry to sign the papers that will finalize their divorce until a chance encounter at the local grocery on Father’s Day brings Andrew into Sadie’s life.

She sets aside the initial surge of attraction she feels toward this handsome stranger, but life has other plans, throwing Andrew in her path several more times in the ensuing days. This could easily feel contrived, but in Consolino’s deft hands, it feels more like what happens when we hear something new to us and then re-encounter it twice more within the next twenty-four hours. Perhaps it isn’t so much that Sadie never seen Andrew before as that she’d never noticed because she wasn’t paying attention.

The story alternates point-of-view between Sadie and Theo, giving us an unsparing picture of the very real struggle Theo has with the legacy of his service in Afghanistan. Although he’s agreed to their planned divorce, he’s also struggling with whether to let their marriage reach its conclusion, despite the fact that it was he who initiated their separation. He loves his children very much, and on good days he remembers how he felt about Sadie back in the day.

With solid and, at times, lovely writing, Christina Consolino’s novel tells the story of a woman trying to balance old love and new without harming her husband’s attempts to heal or wrecking her children’s lives in the process. She is a genuinely good person, with more compassion for others than for herself, but the pull of new love is heady and strong.

If you’re a fan of stories that center on women making the journey through life in the face of both adversity and joy, Christina Consolino’s Rewrite the Stars is just your ticket. You can pre-order it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

To enter the drawing, just leave a comment below letting me know you’re interested. I’ll announce the winner next Tuesday and make arrangements to get you your free copy!

Christina Consolino is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in multiple online and print outlets. She is the co-author of Historic Photos of University of Michigan, and her debut novel, Rewrite the Stars, was named one of ten finalists for the Ohio Writers’ Association Great Novel Contest 2020. She serves as senior editor at the online journal Literary Mama, freelance edits both fiction and nonfiction, and teaches writing classes at Word’s Worth Writing Connections. Christina enjoys warm cups of coffee, good books, and long runs outside.

Jeanne: Selling the Unsympathetic Heroine

One of the toughest sells–possibly the toughest sell–in the romance world is the unsympathetic heroine. By “unsympathetic” I don’t mean a heroine who lacks sympathy for the other characters–although she may. I’m referring to the literary definition of sympathetic: A sympathetic character is a fictional character in a story whom the writer expects the reader to identify with and care about, if not admire. (Wikipedia)

When I began work on The Demon Wore Stilettos, my upcoming novel about an author who sells her soul to Satan to make the New York Times bestseller list, I wanted to give her a possible way out, so I devised a clause in her deal with the devil that says if she performs an act of total altruism between the time she signs the contract and the day her soul falls due, she’s off the hook. (You will be unsurprised to learn that Hell has a very narrow definition of what constitutes altruism.)

This setup means the external plot arc is about Megan’s efforts to do something Hell deems perfectly selfless. Logically, this means her internal character arc is along learning to be less self-centered.

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Jeanne: Vonnegut’s Story Shapes

Kurt Vonnegut once said that his biggest contribution to the culture was his master’s thesis, rejected by the anthropology department at University of Chicago, wherein he theorized that if you graph stories along two axes (good fortune to ill fortune on the vertical axis and beginning to end along the horizontal axis), there are only eight basic shapes. If you want a scholarly take on this topic, I recommend this article. If you’re okay with something less erudite, stick around.

  1. Man in a Hole

Man begins with slightly better than average luck but immediately falls into a hole of ill fortune and has to dig himself back out.

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Jeanne: The Messiah Trope

Last weekend, on the recommendation of my 16-year-old granddaughter, I watched the Winx saga on Netflix. The story opens as 16-year-old Bloom arrives at Alfea, a boarding school for fairies. The school also has a wing for “Specialists”–non-magical but gifted fighters. Alfea is a training ground where the students are taught the skills needed to protect the Magix realm from the Burned Ones, an army of horrifically burned creatures whose touch generates an infection that will kill the recipient if the Burned One isn’t quickly eliminated.

Bloom has grown up in a human family. When she reached adolescence and her powers as a fire fairy awoke, she unintentionally set the house on fire, resulting to third-degree burns to her mother. After being recruited to Alfea, Bloom is initially told there were family genes somewhere far up her family try, but she eventually learns she’s a changeling–a fae infant who was substituted for a human baby without the human parents’ knowledge. Over the course of the 6-episode series it becomes clear she was born to save Magix from the Burned Ones. (She’s also self-absorbed and a bit of a mono-maniac about finding her real parents.)

That got me to thinking about the Messiah/Savior trope in children’s fantasy literature. A few features of the messiah figure are:

  1. They were born for a specific purpose.
  2. Their birth/coming may have been foretold.
  3. They are way better at fighting and/or magic than their peers.
  4. They are often orphaned or half-orphaned
  5. They have often been fostered in a family outside the realm they’re supposed to save, and come to the job as adolescents.
  6. They have often been badly treated by these caregivers, giving them an inner resiliency.

Examples of child saviors are:

  • Harry Potter–enters wizarding world at age 11.
  • Frodo Baggins–sets off on a quest to destroy the One Ring at age 51 (which is much younger for a hobbit than it is for a human)
  • Anakin Skywalker (but he turned to the Dark Side) –9 in Episode I–The Phantom Menace and 19 in Episode II–Attack of the Clones
  • Luke Skywalker–sets off to save the galaxy from the Empire’s battle station at age 19
  • Katniss Everdeen–steps up to take his sister’s place in the Hunger Games at age 17, setting off a chain of events that will bring down the repressive government of Panem.
  • Jonas in The Giver is 12 years old when he becomes the Receiver, charged with keeping memories of the before-times for his community, which has elected to take away life choices from people as a way of preventing discord.

Recently, I’ve been reading the Kate Daniels books by husband and wife writing duo Ilona Andrews and it occurs to me that Kate appears to be another example of a messiah character. I’m only on the fourth book and at this point I don’t know if she winds up saving her world (though I suspect she does) but she definitely checks most of the other boxes.

It also occurs to me that heroine of my first book, The Demon Always Wins, checks a lot of these boxes–Dara was born to save Belial; she’s better at demon-fighting than anyone else (in part because few others recognize the presence of demons in this world); she was orphaned as a small child; she was brought up by her grandparents, who were absorbed with fighting demons.

Funny the stuff you internalize without ever realizing it.

Jeanne: The Sign of a Master Storyteller

Have you ever picked up a book and within a few pages or even just a few sentences found yourself relaxing back into your chair and smiling because you already know that you’re in for a great ride?

Recently, on the advice of Eight Lady Jilly (who found it from a recommendation from This Is a Good Book Thursday on Jenny Crusie’s Argh blog) I picked up Lord of Stariel by A.J. Lancaster. The prologue (which is titled “An Ominous Prologue”) is only half a page in length. It shows someone named King Aeros activating a gate to a non-faerie realm.

His touch fell upon a stone acorn buried among the leaves. He drew up ropes of magic, filling the air with his signature of storms and metal, and twisted. The space between the stone columns shimmered.

“The Iron Law is revoked. The Mortal Realm is open to us once again.” His smile widened.

It was not a nice smile.

And just like that, I was hooked. It was clear from the nine-paragraph prologue that Ms. Lancaster was a masterful storyteller and that I was in good hands. I finished the book late last week and it kept its promise.

That got me to thinking about other times I’ve had that experience of knowing right off the bat that I was in the hands of a master storyteller.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor, gave me that feeling.

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love.

It did not end well.

I loved that book enough that a few years later, on the strength of Ms. Taylor’s descriptions of Prague, I took a riverboat cruise from Paris (which I’d always wanted to see) to Prague. Both were amazing (and the rivers in between, with neat German vineyards climbing steep hills on either side, weren’t too shabby either).

Another book like this is Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon. Before the first chapter, there’s a statement:

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Jeanne: What’s Your Point (of View)?

I recently read an adventure romance that, like most romances, had two point-of-view characters–the hero and the heroine.

That held true for the first couple of hundred pages. Then there was a very short (seven paragraphs) scene where a group of men snuck out in the darkness and attempted to kill the hero. For that scene, the author switched to omniscient point-of-view as we saw the men sneak up on the hero’s sleeping form and beat him to death.

Except, as we learned once those seven paragraphs concluded, the hero sensed they were coming and hid in some nearby trees and watched as they “murdered” his empty bedroll.

The reason behind the decision to write this little scene in a different point-of-view seemed pretty obvious: the author wanted to create add tension by appearing to put the hero in serious danger.

On balance, though, I disagreed with that choice because:

  • Once an author sets up a pattern for how POV is going to work in a particular book, they’ve set an expectation in their readers. Although I suspect POV changes are much less visible to readers who aren’t writers themselves, I also think that at a subconscious level readers sense something has changed and find it unsettling. Introducing a whole new point-of-view deep into a story creates a cost in terms of the cohesion. The story doesn’t hold together quite as tightly as it did before the wandering murderers trooped into that clearing, spears raised.
  • Given that the author was unlikely to actually kill off the protagonist halfway through the book, it wasn’t a believable ploy, so the goal of adding tension wasn’t achieved.
  • The cost/benefit was further thrown off-balance by the brevity of the omniscient scene. We barely had time to register that we were no longer a single, familiar character comfy in his bedroll but instead a crowd of would-be assassins sneaking through the forest with murder on our minds than the scene was over.

I’m not talking about staying in deep third but switching from one character to another (although I think introducing the viewpoint of a different character late into a manuscript isn’t a great idea, either) but completely changing the rules of how this story will be told–from “inside” the main characters to far outside them.

So, in my opinion, the cost of writing this very short scene in an unprecedented POV far outweighed what was gained. Please share your thoughts in the comments. Disagreement not only tolerated but welcomed!

Bonus Question: Do you notice point-of-view in the books you read?

Jeanne: Mama Said

As a young girl, my mother wanted to be an author. When I was twelve or so, and fired up about becoming a writer myself, I asked her why she’d never pursued this dream. To her credit, she did not point out, as she might reasonably have done, that she had seven kids, (one of whom was disabled), helped run my dad’s real estate business and kept a huge old house so clean you could eat off the floors, leaving little time for writing.

Instead, she took my question for what it was, a request to know what might get in the way of my own journey to being an author. She said it was because she didn’t have the education to be a writer. She had graduated salutatorian from her tiny high school near Richmond, Kentucky, a circumstance that frustrated her because if she hadn’t had the second best grades in her class she would have been class poet, a title much more to her liking. She’d also done a year of nursing school at Berea College, the tuition-free Kentucky college dedicated to offering an education to the children of coal miners. But she hadn’t studied writing.

She said there was a lot more to being a good author than loving to read and being good in English class. Despite her other responsibilities, she was a prodigious reader, plowing through Frank Yerby and Daphne Du Maurier and all of Mazo do la Roche’s Jalna chronicle, along with romantic suspense luminaries like Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt. I followed in her footsteps, reading several books a week through middle school and high school, but she said that wasn’t enough.

I was pretty sure she was wrong. There were plenty of famous writers who’d never gone to college–Mark Twain, Ray Bradbury, Beatrix Potter and Truman Capote, to name a few.

So after I dropped out of Indiana University, where I was a journalism major, I tried my hand at writing a few novels. I got precisely nowhere, because that’s where my plots went–nowhere. Even today it feels like I should have been able to analyze my favorites among the hundreds of books that I’d read and figure out what made them tick, but I never got past being so carried away by the story that I forgot to look under the covers.

Like my mother before me, my life got caught up in raising and providing for a family, and it wasn’t until I was in my late fifties that I went back to college–McDaniel College, in Baltimore–and learned how plots are supposed to work. Since then, I’ve published two books and expect to publish three more this year.

Right again, Mom.

Jeanne: Goal, Motivation and Conflict

Anyone who has ever read Deb Dixon’s brilliant book, Goal, Motivation and Conflict is familiar with these concepts as they relate to plotting fiction. Your protagonist and your antagonist must each have a goal–a specific, measurable, time-bound objective they want to achieve, motivation–a reason why failing to achieve that goal will result in actual or psychological death, and conflict–something (related to the other character’s goal) that is keeping them from achieving their goal.

In addition to having an external goal (Slay the dragon! Save the homestead from foreclosure!) your characters also need internal arcs–goals, motivations and conflicts–that allow them to achieve some kind of psychological growth.

When I first learned about GMC back at McDaniel, I felt like I could see how story worked for the first time. A while back I put together a spreadsheet that lets me track internal and external GMC for each character in my story but I found I still had problem figuring what goes in which column.

I’m currently taking a class with Linnea Sinclair and Stacey Kade (Who are amazing. If you have an opportunity to take a class with them, do it!) Based on what I’ve learned in the class, I’ve amended the headers in my spreadsheet and I’m finding it much easier to understand what goes where.

  • External Goal (Something tangible to achieve)
  • External Motivation (May be personal, but should be on the surface)
  • External Conflict (Related to the opposing character)
  • Internal Goal (What character needs to learn)
  • Internal Motivation (rooted in her backstory)
  • Internal Conflict (aka The Big Lie)

Do my parenthetical descriptions line up with your understanding of external and internal GMC? If not, how/where do you differ?

Jeanne: Booksweeps Promo

Hurry, hurry, hurry! Come one, come all!

Promoting my books always makes me feel like a carnival barker, but the truth is, this is a great deal. If you like paranormal and/or sci-fi romance, it’s an excellent opportunity to learn about new authors and have a chance to win books and maybe even an eReader.

Booksweeps promotions connect readers of a particular subgenre with authors who’d like to reach a wider audience. First prize is an eReader plus a free copy of every book in the sweep. Second prize is a free copy of every book.

Readers get to review the list of participating authors and select the ones that look like good fits for their reading tastes. Each newsletter subscription is another chance to win.

Authors pay to be included but it’s free for readers.

The promo ends Wednesday, so click here today!

Jeanne: Prepping for an Edit

Last summer, a writer friend suggested I sign up for an edit slot with the excellent romance writer Laurie Sanders. I’d had dinner with Laurie once, after she spoke to my RWA chapter, and thought she had a lot of smarts where romance-writing is concerned, so I took that advice.

This week I got an email saying my 7000 word submission was due. Since I’m currently in the process of drafting two different books, it took me a day to decide what to submit. I chose to send the first 7K of The Demon’s Secret Baby, which will be the fourth in my Touched by a Demon series.

Then it was time to clean it up for submission, a process I liken to straightening your house in anticipation of your cleaning lady’s arrival. Back when I was working more-than-fulltime and had a cleaning lady, my husband used to scoff at my scurrying around, tidying everything before she arrived.

“Why do we need to impress our cleaning lady?” he’d ask.

“It’s not to impress her,” I’d respond.

Full disclosure–while it wasn’t to impress her, I really didn’t want the cleaning lady to know how messy we could be. The real reason I tidied up before she got there, though, was so she wouldn’t waste her time having to move stuff around to do her job.

Prepping a manuscript for submission to a paid editor is a lot like that. I want my submission to be as clean and error-free as I can make it so she doesn’t get distracted by or waste her time correcting grammar and punctuation and that bit of backstory that, for some reason, I felt the need to restate in three different places.

How about you? Do you clean for your cleaning lady (in whatever form that takes)?