Jeanne: Another Delivery from the Girls in the Attic

In the atticWhen the Eight Ladies were in class at McDaniel College years ago, our instructor, Jenny Crusie, used to talk about the Girls in the Attic. The Girls, she said, were the source of inspiration. What they handed down might be weird and totally not where your conscious mind wanted to go with your manuscript, but you should never disregard them.

(The Girls, by the way, were Jenny’s answer to Stephen King’s Boys in the Basement, who serve a similar purpose.)

Last week I started noodling around with another demon book. I have no idea why. I have one manuscript with 60,000 words written that’s waiting for me to come back and mold it into a readable story. And the next logical book in the demon series isn’t the one I started playing around with.

Clearly, following a straight line is not something I excel at. Continue reading

Jilly: Picking Your Brains

Is anyone up for a spot of title brainstorming? I’d appreciate some help.

I’m planning to publish my first book, The Seeds of Power, before the end of the year (much more to follow on that subject soon). All being well the sequel, The Light of Calder, will follow in 2020.

Told you that to tell you this: I want to write a short story (which may grow into a novella) that sits between The Seeds of Powerand The Light of Calder. I know the bare bones of the story. I can visualize the cover. But I can’t find a good title, and it’s driving me crazy.

The books are fantasy adventure romance in a swords-n-sorcery setting vaguely similar to Tudor-era northern England or Scottish borders. The most important commodity in this world is elan, an imaginary medicine created by concentrating life energy into specially grown beans. The mysterious transformation process changes the beans from everyday foodstuff into hard-shelled, fragrant, shiny golden nuggets known as pulses. A pulse of elan can be grated and boiled into a tonic for internal use, or added to a poultice for external application. However it’s used, elan boosts the body’s own natural healing powers and gives near-miraculous results, which makes it more valuable than gold. The only people who know how to make elan are the Edevald family, rulers of wealthy, powerful Caldermor.

The Seeds of Poweris about Christal, a strong-minded princess who’s determined not to marry (she has excellent reasons) and who justifies her single status by becoming an expert cultivator of rare plants. Her plan works fine until Prince Daire Edevald unexpectedly proposes marriage because he needs her to fix a problem with his secret elan beans.

The Light of Calder is Daire’s story, about his attempts to lift the Edevald curse. The men of his family burn brightly but do not live long. Common gossip says the Edevalds made a deal with the gods, and their short life span is the price they paid to gain the secret of elan. The Light of Calder is a priceless jewel, the Edevald family’s greatest heirloom, and so much more than merely the centerpiece of the Calderran royal regalia.

My plan is for the Story in the Middle to show the problem with the secret bean plants and explain how the solution Christal offers motivates Daire to seek out someone who can help him solve the mystery of the Edevald curse.

The title for the new story should be The Something of Something.

Continue reading

Nancy: What Gets You Out of Bed in the Morning?

Years ago, when I was in my previous life and profession and was using a white board for something other than character arcs and plot progressions, I kept a question on my board at work. It was, “What keeps you up at night?” This is a question used in sales in marketing to remind sellers to think about what the customer wants/needs/stresses about, NOT about the widget or service we want to sell.

Then about five years ago, I read an article that argued (rather convincingly) that we should stop asking what keeps our customers up at night, and start asking, “What gets you out of bed in the morning?” Do you see the shift from negative to positive? I brought that to the teams I managed with the goal of writing our business proposals with a different spin. We still needed to write about knowing the customer’s pain and how to solve it. But I started pestering my teams (and the business development execs who interacted with the customers) to learn about customer’s bigger-picture visions. I wanted to expand our message to say, “We support solutions, but also aspirations.”

By now you’re wondering, WTH does this have to do with fiction writing? I’m so glad you asked! Continue reading

Nancy: A Romance by Any Other Name…

This could TOTALLY be Percy and Finola if he were a strawberry-blond instead of a brunette.

Here on the blog, we spend a lot of time discussing the importance of book covers and branding in getting our books into the hands of the right readers, the ones who will love our particular genres and stories. It probably goes without saying, but in case it doesn’t, I’ll say it now: book titles are an important part of the overall package that positions books.

With that caveat, you can probably see where this post is going. Turns out, the title I selected for my next book, a title I’ve loved and attached to and had at the forefront of my brain while I wrote the book, might not work for my romance sub-genre. It all started when I was working on cover concepts with my new cover designer (this is designer number three, for those of you following along at home). After several discussions of the book with her, I woke up one morning to find an email in my inbox that changed the way I now see my beloved title.

As she had been setting up a design and working on fitting the title into it, it struck her that Three Husbands and a Lover sounded like a reverse harem erotica title. If you haven’t heard of the RH subgenre, it’s one woman with multiple male lovers, and tends to be erotica. Um, no. Not my genre, and not what I intended communicate with that name. If I thought it was just her opinion, well-versed as she is in the romance field, I could ignore it. But now that she’s put that thought in my brain, all I can picture when I see that title is my heroine surrounded by her four lovers. Continue reading

Justine: Tricks to Help You Focus

Depressed man with worried desperate stressed expression and brain melting into linesI have attention deficit disorder. I’ve had it my entire life, and because of a heart condition, I can’t take medication for it. ADD makes staying focused one any one task for a long period of time very difficult (unless I’m really excited about the task — like reading a book from my favorite author).

In the past, I’ve tried setting goals in order for me to get my writing done. But word count goals didn’t work for me, especially when I was editing. Did I really write 1,000 words? No idea…too much cutting/pasting/adding. Plus, there were some days Continue reading

Jeanne: Help a Writer Out

It seems to me that the second-chance-at-love trope, by its very nature, calls for more backstory than fresh-out-of-the-box romance. (Even Jenny Crusie, who dislikes backstory more than any other writer I’ve ever known, wound up including a dash of it in Maybe This Time, her second-chance-at-love romance.)

question-mark-1872665_640Possibly because I had a bias against backstory drilled into me during the McDaniel program, I tend to minimize it in my books. But if you have characters who were once together and broke up for some reason and you’re now attempting to join them back together, I think the reader needs to know what caused problems the first time around.

And if they’re going to achieve a happy-ever-after ending, readers need to know what caused their problems the first time around so they can watch for the character arcs that will address those problems.

Right now, the main characters in The Demon Wore Stilettos (cover reveal coming soon!) broke up because she got him to help her negotiate a contract to sell her soul to Satan by telling him it was a literary exercise for her MFA program.  Underneath, though, the bigger issue is that she tends to conceal information and he has a driving need to expose the truth.

This shows up as a problem from the first time they meet, in the scene below: Continue reading

Nancy: A Rose by Any Other Name*

If I had to take out a personal ad to describe my current writing dilemma, it would go something like this: Multi-genre author with deep-seated issues around choosing book titles seeks readers with sharp, intuitive minds to help choose an appropriate marketing title for a book going out on submission.

You can probably see where this post is going. You, dear readers, are the sharp, intuitive minds in question. A few weeks ago, I didn’t realize I’d need your help, as I was merrily skipping down the primrose path with my beloved working title for a soon-to-be-submitted story nestled safely in my blue and yellow basket. (Yes, metaphorical Nancy is a weird amalgam of different fairytale characters. And she skips. Just go with me on this one.)

Then approximately a week and a half ago, I was on a video chat with Jennie Nash, one of my writing mentors, and a few other people when the conversation turned to submitting manuscripts to agents and editors. Jennie mentioned the importance of having an email subject line that captures the recipient’s attention. Since most query emails will have the prescribed subject line “Query: Book Title,” that means a marketing book title – without the benefit of a full book cover to convey genre and tone – might carry more weight than the final title on a published book. The title needs to convey Continue reading

Michille: Write Your Novel in a Year

wendig

As so many people say, or in this case after I googled ‘write your novel in a year’, so many web pages say it. I’ve discussed Writers Write and Anthony Ehlers series called Write Your Novel in a Year. The blog very kindly consolidated all 52 posts here. I have Chuck Wendig’s infographic on my bulletin board (if you don’t like foul language, skip this one). And I’ve tried the NaNo method (although I knew I wouldn’t write an entire novel in a month). I don’t read these because I think any one of them will be the magic bullet, but I do regularly find motivation to keep writing. Here are some of the new ones I found: Continue reading

Nancy: Liar, Liar, Page on Fire

Characters lie. They do it all the time. They lie to themselves when they convince themselves they’re after an external McGuffin when they’re really searching for love, or acceptance, or loss of everything so they can start over fresh. They lie to other characters in conversations, and give away the truth in their interior monologues and actions. Sometimes they even lie to readers, especially in the cases of the recently-popular, unreliable narrators in books like Hawkins’s Girl on the Train and Flynn’s Gone Girl.

But what happens when one of the leads in a romance story lies to the other lead? Will readers root for someone lying to our girl/our guy and still want the liar to get the HEA? How long can a character lie and still be considered redeemable? Are there circumstances that make this character choice more palatable?

These are the questions I pondered as I worked on the discovery phase of the next novel in my Harrow’s Finest Five series. This is Percy’s story, for those who have read the novella. And the story kicks off with our heroine (Finola) telling one whopper of a lie to get Percy’s attention and, ultimately, help.

I ran multiple scenarios about when, where, and how my heroine would come clean. I talked to readers. I reread stories I remembered with some level of deception between the characters. After all that, I have lots of thoughts, but my main take-away is that whether the lie is tolerable and forgivable all comes down to “why”. Continue reading

Nancy: Copenhagen (and Denmark) Blues

Black Diamond on the Water. This extension of the Royal Danish Library opened in 1999. It plays a key role in Nick’s story.

As you no doubt gleaned from last week’s post, I’ve recently been an intrepid world traveler. Well, OK, I traveled to one other country, but I crossed six time zones and spent three days on each end of the trip battling severe jet lag, so it feels like it’s been quite a trek, and I’m happy to be home safe and sound and finally getting back on east coast time.

Because you can take the writer out of her cave but you can’t take the cave out of the writer, or something like that, I spent some of my three weeks in Denmark being a tall, dark, and handsome, thirty-year-old, half-American/half-Danish, mixed-race man. In my head, of course. (I might be able to pull off a lot of things, but tall and thirty are not on that list). I’m talking, of course, about my fictional character Nicholai* Jens Olesen, Nicky O to his American friends. This was my first trip to the country since I’d conceived of the Copenhagen-set mystery series, so I did my best to view it from Nick’s eyes. In addition to helping me solidify my vision of what Denmark means to this character, it also revealed important things about the character himself.

A Few Things About Nick

A Very Danish House with Thatched Roof. This is the kind of house where Nick probably spent some of his summers.

He’s much more American than Danish. Technically, as his (now deceased) father was a Danish citizen and his mother is American, I think he can still claim Danish citizenship (but it’s complicated, so more research required!). As a child, he spent a couple of months every summer and some additional weeks most Christmas vacations in DK, has visited frequently as an adult, and did some of his graduate work in the country, so he definitely has a foot securely planted in this culture. But the majority of his time has been spent in America, and when he’s placed in that character crucible and pressure is applied, his American mind-set and life approach is going to show, for better or for worse.

After his father’s death, his visits to the country will never be the same. Sadly, because of our age and the extent of my husband’s family that lives in Denmark (that’s everyone related to him except his parents, siblings, our daughter and I), every time we’ve traveled to Denmark, there are relatives we’ve lost since the previous trip. It’s especially noticeable when we cross off towns where we used to go from our must-visit list, because the loved ones we used to see there are gone. As Nick’s story begins with him being in Denmark for his father’s funeral, there are going to be lots of opportunities for him to be haunted and heartbroken by memories triggered from seeing old, familiar places. This is an important part of character development I have to keep in mind when I start the deep-dive into Nick’s soul.

A Few Things About Denmark That Impact Nick’s Story… Continue reading