Nancy: Spring Cleaning and a Vignette

Danish Christmas Hearts

A few days ago, Michaeline told us about her ambitious plans for spring equinox cleaning and decluttering, both physically and mentally. There does tend to be something about the changing season that makes us crave restored order (or maybe it’s just a Virgo thing).

I tend to keep my physical spaces neat and orderly, but even the most stereotypical Virgo can have a mess somewhere that could benefit from some springtime TLC. Mine happens to be virtual. So while Michaeline focuses on her office and brain spaces, I’m focusing on my computer. One of the virtual folders pinned to my desktop I’ve neglected for quite a while is labeled Vignettes. Turns out, that’s where I’ve saved flash fiction pieces inspired by, among other things, Elizabeth’s Friday writing sprints. I haven’t had the time and writing bandwidth to participate in those lately, so it was fun to see what I’d written in the past.

Some of you might recall I have a plan for a mystery series set in Copenhagen, with protagonist Nicholai Olesen, or Nicky O as I often call him. One of the stories in my neglected Vignettes folder is about Nicky O, and while I’m pretty sure this showed up in the comments section at some point in time, I thought I’d post it here just to remind any Nick fans that he still exists somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain and he really will get his own book(s) one of these days. In this partial scene, Nick and his married lover/police detective Pernilla (who is often angry at him for so many reasons) are looking for clues to help track the killer who tried to frame Nick and…well, you can get caught up on how Nick got himself into this mess in the first place by first reading Parapluie (previously titled Copenhagen Blues) and Lost Hearts in Copenhagen. Then come back here to read Murder Clues (yeah, that title needs work, but hey, free fiction!). I’ll finish the scene and let you in on what Nick and Pernilla find in a second installment next week.

And to kick off our writing week in style, how about sharing a scene/vignette/opening paragraph of something of your own in the comments?

Murder Clues

When I slid into the passenger’s seat of Pernilla’s tiny black Puegot a little after nine that night, she didn’t spare me a glance or a word. Just floored the gas pedal and sent us zooming down the side streets of Vesterbro before I could even click my seatbelt into place. I took her dark mood to mean she’d neither forgiven nor forgotten the sins I’d committed against her over the past 72 hours. Continue reading

Nancy: Lost in Translations

Did you ever answer the question: What would your favorite reading day look like? I occasionally think about this, especially when I’m having a decidedly unfavorite writing day and all I want to do is escape into someone else’s really wonderful story.

My answer to that question varies, but this is one of my favorites: I’m on a comfy sofa, wrapped in a warm blanket, in an old library with soaring ceilings and thousands upon thousands of books stacked to the rafters. You know the kind of place, where you breathe in the smell of yellowing pages and well-worn book bindings. And seated on an upholstered wing chair across from me is a handsome man, a native Spanish speaker, with a well-trained voice (think Placido Domingo in the heyday of his opera singing career). We’re sipping Cognac. And this lovely man is reading Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s book Shadow of the Wind to me. In the original Spanish.

Yes, it’s a very weird and specific fantasy. But it gets even weirder because, it turns out, I don’t read, speak, or even understand more than a handful of Spanish words.

That’s the beauty of books in translation. We don’t have to be fluent in another language to luxuriate in amazing storytelling by authors like Zafón or the author who started me down the path of love of modern Spanish literature, Gabriel García Márquez. And because I love so many of these books in English, I can only imagine how beautiful they must sound in their original Spanish. If you’re not already a fan of Spanish books in translation, come hither and let me try to convert you by recommending a few of my favorites. Continue reading

Nancy: Back to Basics: Conflict Lock, With Extras

conflict-lockSometimes basic is best. Getting back to basics. Basic black. Basic humanity.

And so it is with writing. Every now and then, often in one of the revision stages of a story, it’s time to get back to the basics – the point, the goal, and the conflict of a story. That means it’s time to reach into the writer’s basic toolbox and pull out some old favorites to identify festering plot holes, shore up weak conflicts, and fix leaky sinks. Okay, maybe not that last one.

This lesson presented itself to me when I recently found my Harrow’s Finest Five book 1 revision slowly circling the drain (what is it with me and sinks today?). I was dissatisfied with the story stakes. As I read the manuscript, they didn’t seem to be escalating, further complicating heroine Emme’s life, and leading her to an inevitable clash with consequences of her own making.

An author has options at such times. Crying. Chocolate. Booze. Cyring into chocolate and booze. But I’ve heard it can actually be more empowering to use TOOLS. Powerful, writerly tools. In this case, I opted for the tools and pulled the conflict box out of my toolbox to see why my revision had gotten stuck and my story felt flat. Continue reading

Nancy: A Year of Change…Checking In

A master of change himself, David Bowie sang about it way back in 1971.

A master of change himself, David Bowie sang about ch-ch-ch-ch-changes way back in 1971.

A few months ago, after we’d all realized the world had changed and turned our eyes toward the hellfires of Mordor, Michaeline and I got into a discussion about change in the comments section of this post about writing as our superpower. She mentioned she’d put a tarot card app on her phone and ‘change’ cards kept popping up. Around the same time, I’d had a tarot reading (I was in Salem, MA; it seemed appropriate to do something ‘other-worldly’) during which I’d gotten three change cards (which I gathered from the tarot reader was a lot).

The card reader told me so much change so fast would be…unsettling might have been the least disturbing word bandied about, and warned me I wouldn’t be able to control ALL THE CHANGES. I should learn to change and control what I could and learn to adapt to the rest. Which is definitely a life lesson I seem to need to learn over and over again.

Luckily for me (she said sardonically), Continue reading

Nancy: Lessons From the Dreaded Day Job

Why, you might ask, have I taped a scene to my wall? To keep my brain guessing.

Why, you might ask, have I taped a scene to my wall? To keep my brain guessing.

Once upon a time, a very nice girl found herself working in a really stressful industry. Okay, you caught me: I’m talking about me. I haven’t qualified as a ‘girl’ for decades. And very nice…well, that depends upon the day and the situation. But I did work in a really stressful industry (US government proposal management, in case you’re desperately curious). Over the years, I developed some mad skills that I brought to bear on high-pressure, deadline-driven, writing-intensive problems.

A few months ago, I left that industry and promptly forgot (or more likely purged) much hard-earned wisdom about writing and revision. And while I’d always believed honing my fiction writing and storytelling skills only improved my performance on those (non-fiction) projects, I didn’t think much about what lessons from my day job could teach me about writing fiction.

For what feels like eons but has only been several weeks, Continue reading

Nancy: Love for the Long Haul

kiss-on-windowBecause most of us here on the blog write (and read!) a lot of romance, the week of Valentine’s Day presents an opportunity to talk about that core component of a romance story: love. More specifically, believable, happily ever after (HEA) love.

I thought about HEA love this past week when Maria V. Snyder posted on her FB page about the need for Valentine’s Day cards for 25+-year relationships, cards along the lines of “you annoy me and drive me crazy but I’m still willing to put up with it” or “we worked hard to mesh and I don’t want to train anyone else”. Yeah, those aren’t quite the messages we tend to read or write in our romance novels, but they are tongue-in-cheek reminders that there are real-life HEAs.

Back in the fiction world, though, that ‘believable HEA’ part isn’t always easy to write, and doesn’t always resonate with readers. For example, Continue reading

Nancy: How to Write a Sex Scene and Still Respect Yourself in the Morning

In the song I Want Your Sex, GM sings:

In the song I Want Your Sex, GM sings: “Sex is natural, sex is good. Not everybody does it, but everybody should.” What do your characters think about that suggestion?

Followers of the blog know we started the discussion of sex – specifically, writing sex scenes – last week, when Kay talked about her difficulty writing the next (and more meaningful) sex scene between the h/h in her WIP. On Saturday, Michaeline followed up with some observations about different kinds of sex scenes and some words encouraging writers to practice writing them. Today, as someone who has written many sex scenes over the years, had them critiqued by other writers, and even survived having both my mother and mother-in-law read a book with some really hot stuff happening, I thought I’d add my two cents, or in this case, five points to ponder, about writing sex into a romance story.

1. A scene is a scene is a scene. When is a scene in your story not a scene? Never! So, it stands to reason that a sex scene will, in many ways, be like the other scenes in your book. As Kay and Michaeline both pointed out in their posts, scenes exist in a story for one reason – to move the story forward. That’s why the best scenes tend to have conflict, beats, escalation, and a turning point.

Conflict in a sex scene? Continue reading