Jilly: Do You Believe In Love At First Sight?

I finished my draft of The Pulse of Princes, the novella that’s been gobbling up my time for the last few weeks. I sent it off to gobble up my editor’s time instead 😀 .

I’m so happy I chose to write this story. It turned out well, and best of all it made me think hard about the early life of Prince Daire, who’s turning out to be the most influential character in the Elan Intrigues stories. I gleaned some insights which have me really excited.

The Pulse of Princes shows Daire before he inherits the throne of Caldermor, when both his parents are still alive. I had to put them on the page. I had to figure out how they met, and how they each found a role in their marriage.

Here’s a snippet:

Princess Irmine’s dark gaze assessed Daire: the tidy queue that was making his head ache, his tense posture, carefully chosen clothes, and comfortable gray watersnakeskin boots. Her eyes narrowed. “You are so like your father. Do you know why he married me?”

That, at least, was easy. Daire relaxed his arms, used the question to restore his equanimity. A reprieve, though no doubt a temporary one. “He tells me the story, often. He loved you from the moment he saw you. He never saw a woman so strong. So beautiful. He forgot the biting cold. Forgot the furs he’d come in search of. Forgot everything except you.”

Just for a moment, his mother melted. Her dark eyes shone. Her lips softened and curled upward in sheer pleasure. Just for a moment, Daire saw the woman his father saw every time he looked at the crown princess.

“Well, yes.” Her smile faded. “But it’s more than that. Your father takes his vows seriously. His duty. He knows the best way to protect Caldermor is to have a strong, powerful country.”

“Father traded everything he had with him to carry off an unknown princess from a wild island nation on the edge of the ice fields, and you call it duty?” Daire rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “Excuse me, ma’am, but you do yourself a disservice.”

“I say he did me a great honor.” His mother stood straight as a lance, every inch a princess. “I organized everything for my father the king. Our stronghold. Our people. Our fur trades. Desmond saw I could rule Caldermor for him. And better still, I’m not Calderran.”

“How so?”

“Because I can take the decisions he can not.” She relaxed, just a hairsbreadth. “Daire. I was traded myself. I understand everyone has a price. I’m not sentimental about Calderran people the way your father is.”

Daire winced. “And I am.”

“So it seems.” She leaned toward him, and for once he got the sense she was speaking from the heart, without calculation. “I strive every day to be worth the great price Desmond paid for me. I will do what I must to keep his country safe and strong. And I shall do so as long as I have breath in my body. Whether he is here to see it or not.”

I like this. It explains Irmine’s no-holds-barred mindset. It also led me to think about my new WIP, The Seeds of Destiny, which is Daire’s love story. I had imagined he’d be influenced by the events of the two previous Elan Intrigues books, where true love happens to people he cares about. Of course those events are important, but the bond between his own parents would be an earlier and stronger influence.

That got me to musing about love at first sight, in real life and in fiction. Lust at first sight happens all the time, of course, but I think sometimes it can be more than that. My father decided to marry my mother before he ever spoke to her. They would sit at bus stops on opposite sides of the street on working days. They spent months smiling at one another before heading off in different directions. That turned into fifty-something years of powerful togetherness.

I like it as a trope in fiction too, as long as it’s more than he’s so hot/she’s so beautiful. More like the fabulous first meet in Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels. Of course there’s immediate physical attraction between Dain and Jessica. He is hot, and she is beautiful. But there’s also a major battle of wits and an even bigger battle of wills between two smart, headstrong characters. We already know Dain is hyper-competitive. When he loses both battles we know he’s toast. I love that 🙂 .

What do you think? Do you believe in love at first sight, on the page or IRL?

Jeanne: Character Signatures

I was out for my morning walk one day last week and listening to the soundtrack from Les Miserables when I got to thinking about how each of the major characters have a clearly identifiable musical signature, a theme that, when you hear it, you know the front-and-center character is Javert, or Jean Valjean, or Eponyme, or whoever. Which in turn made me wonder how that translates in written works.

Each of my main characters has one or more identifiers, a brand, if you will. For Lilith, it’s her stilettos. For Satan, it’s his skin, which cycles through various wine colors (from a blush rose to a pinot grigio) as his mood darkens.

Dara, the protagonist in The Demon Always Wins, was notable for the burn scars that disfigured her collarbones and the backs of her hands (unless you were a demon who found them strangely alluring). Belial, the hero from that same book, was identifiable by his signature scent, a mix of vanilla and petrichor–the smell of fresh rain after a long, dry period.

Keeffe, the artist in The Demon’s in the Details, always smelled of paint and turpentine. Bad, her computer-like boyfriend, was always pushing his glasses up on his nose.

In my yet-to-be released Contemporary romance, Girl’s Best Friend, Taylor is a former dancer, and even though a severe injury means she’ll never dance again, she still moves with the grace of a dancer.

What signature traits have you read or written that have really stuck with you?

Jeanne: Plot Peeves

In the rain.

On Sunday, Jilly talked about plot preferences.

Today, I thought I’d flip that and talk about plot peeves–the things that annoy and frustrate me in stories.

(Hold onto your umbrellas, kids, cause I’ve got a lot of them.

No. 1. Failure to show the climactic moment. No, I’m not talking about sex here. I’m talking about what Robert McKee, screenwriting guru, calls the “obligatory scene,” the scene the author has spent 300+ pages making you anticipate and is therefore obliged to show you.

It doesn’t happen often, thank goodness. The best example I can think of is an episode from the show Elementary (Season 6, Episode 12) called “Meet Your Maker” where Holmes and Watson are asked to locate a missing woman who was a financial dominatrix. (Hard to explain. If you want to know, you’ll have to watch it.) After 40-ish minutes of various plot twists and surprises, they locate the missing woman, who has been kidnapped and forced to craft untraceable guns (because of her sideline as a toymaker). Unfortunately, by the time the show reached this point, all those twists and turns had eaten up all the show’s runtime. The writers chose to skip the “freeing the captive toymaker from the bad guys” scene and jumped to the denouement where everyone was congratulating each other. What the hell? Continue reading

Jilly: Searching for Niol

I don’t know about you, but I’m digging in for the long haul. It would be lovely to think the world was starting to return to normal, but I’m not making any plans that involve spending significant time in the wider world. Fingers crossed for next year.

Luckily I have a new writing project to keep me busy. I just finished up the developmental edits on The Seeds of Exile and sent it off for copy editing. Yay! Now I need to get to work on the next Elan Intrigues book, The Seeds of Destiny. I have a pretty good idea of the central story (more on that later), but I’ve acquired an important secondary character and right now I know next to nothing about him.

The Seeds of Exile is about the relationship between twenty-six-year-old Daire Edevald, crown prince and ruler of the wealthy city state of Caldermor, and Warrick Edevald, his twenty-one year old brother and heir. As I wrote the novella, I discovered a third brother, eighteen-year-old Niol. He doesn’t appear in the book, but he features strongly in the battle between the brothers and at the end of the novella Daire sends a message to call Niol home.

Salient details about Niol: he was sent away aged eight, to be raised at a friendly court on a remote peninsula four days’ ride away from Caldermor. That was a decade ago and he hasn’t been back since, though he’s always known he might be recalled. His political value is as backup to Warrick, just as Warrick is backup for Daire.

I was talking through my edit report with Karen, my developmental editor. She said “So, Niol. What’s he been doing and what’s he like?” Er. Good question. Better figure that out.

All the Edevald boys have been brought up to do their duty, no matter the personal cost, but they have very different styles and personalities. Daire is showy and theatrical, totally OTT, with a talent for political maneuvring and a big heart. Warrick is scholarly, introverted, idealistic, a touch pedantic. So what is Niol? Physically he’s like his brothers– tall and whippy, with masses of curly hair and a cute smile. As a character he can be almost anything I want him to be except an out-and-out villain.

I’d like him to be very different from the other two sons, and since he was raised in a different country I can easily justify that.

Is he happy or resentful that he was sent away?

How does he feel about the family and/or tutors who were given the responsibility of raising him? Does he feel more loyal to them than to Caldermor?

What’s his personality like? What skills has he learned in the last decade?

How does he feel about being recalled? I think he could have visited over the years but has chosen not to, which suggests to me he doesn’t see Caldermor as his home. He has no reason to feel brotherly love for Daire or Warrick.

I’d like Niol to be fun to write, and to read about. What kind of young man do you think he’d be?

Elizabeth: Marginalized Characters

I’ll admit I was sorely tempted to skip posting this week and just binge-watch Hamilton, but since it made me cry every time I saw it live (and I did so several times) or listened to the soundtrack (which I did even more times), I decided to pause that thought and save those tears for another day.

I’m currently taking an online class sponsored by The Beau Monde, the Regency writer’s group that is (was?) part of RWA.  The class, Critical Lens, is taught by LaQuette and aimed at those “interested in learning what constitutes positive representation and how we can respectfully depict communities we don’t belong to.

One of the first topics addressed was “Marginalized Characters” and the session started with a simple description of a variety of characters.  Some white some not.  Some gay, some not.  There were various professions, income levels, and housing choices.  And a young white billionaire.

The exercise was simple:  Which characters do you find believable (and why or why not)? Continue reading

Michaeline: Writing Where the Grass is Greener

Tish, Aggie and Lizzie putting out a fire while a young heroine looks on.

Letitia Carberry (known as Tish), and her henchwomen, Aggie and Lizzie, save yet another young couple in love while putting out fires and being their unabashed spinster selves. (Image via digital.library.upenn)

Two things collided and lit up my intellectual sky this morning. First was that tweet by the guy who said being childless is a privilege*. A lot of Twitter people piled on – one of his arguments basically boiled down to “you can euthanize your pets, but you can’t euthanize your children, so stop comparing pet ownership to parenthood. Pet-owning childless people, you have no idea, so your arguments along that line are invalid.”

I tweeted that not having kids is a privilege, and having kids is a privilege – just very, very different privileges that carry their own burdens and responsibilities. I added that the grass seems particularly greener on the other side when we are fed up and anxious about things.

And goodness knows, the pandemic has increased the number of bored, anxious, fed-up-to-the-gills feelings.

So this idea of childlessness being a privilege (with caveats) ran into the reading I’ve been doing recently. Problematic early 20th century writer Mary Roberts Rinehart is racist and classist – but it’s a closely observed racism and classism that make her characters live and breathe. And in addition, she’s good at plotting, and turning rather ordinary situations into screwball comedy.

Her casual sideswipes at great swathes of humanity make me deeply uncomfortable, but she’s got good ideas that would work well in this time period or even the near future.

One of the perennial calls from readers is for books that have mature heroines. Most of Roberts Rinehart’s books do feature narrators out of their first blush of youth, and in particular, her series of stories about Letitia Carberry, a “spinster” who has a taste for adventure (motorcars, boats, that sort of thing) and her two friends. Tish Carberry buys an island where her friends go to hang out in the summer, and they rescue young couples who are crossed in love. (The young men in the stories are often appalling stalker-boys, and the girls often don’t know their own minds before realizing that they luuuurve those awful wretched boys. You have been warned!)

Older woman swimming in an inner tube calling to an older woman washing a white sheet on the shore.

“Get the canoe and follow. I’m heading for Island Eleven.” Actual caption to the original, and I can’t add much more. Tish calls to the narrator, Lizzie. (Image via digital.libary.upenn)

But if you boil the muck down and distill the essence, this is a great idea! Three happy spinsters, merrily following their own interests and pursuits. They go camping! Tish enters a car race and blows away the competitors while her friends cheer her on (and fear for her life!). The women have time, they have money, and they have a certain amount of respect as “elderly” women (they are in their 50s, IIRC), and can also totally Karen their way out of a situation by pretending to be weak and fragile. (And sometimes it’s funny that their fragility is real, but they don’t want to admit it.)

I think it’s very much a “grass is greener” situation. Roberts Rinehart married a doctor after graduating from nursing school. The Tish books were written from 1911 to 1937, so she would have been about 35 when she published the first Tish book. According to Wikipedia, her sons would have been about 14, 11 and 9 in 1911. Since her first book, The Circular Staircase, was published in 1908, she would have had at least three years of writing while juggling her job as wife and mother.

I can easily imagine that the Tish books were a mental vacation from those responsibilities. Just think: what fun it would be to buy an island away from everything, provide homes for your best friends, rent a few cabins to make ends meet and then indulge in camping, fishing, crafts, motorcars and whatever else struck your fancy – without having to justify it to a husband or feel like you were stealing the college education from your children!

Her kids were a success, and her writing paid for extensive renovations to a house in town that she bought, as well as a rural retreat. Letting her imagination stray to a place where the grass was greener certainly seemed to pay off for her! A room of her own? Let’s aim for an island of our own!

*Privilege confers certain advantages, and I don’t see privilege as a zero sum game in every case. Childfull/childless is one of these cases. Renting/owning is another case where both sides have pros and cons. In race and gender discussions, privilege is more fraught and puts the burdens and deprivation people have in stark contrast. Imbalanced privilege that we can fix is definitely worth doing something about. 

Jeanne: Finding Your Beginning in Your Ending

jen-malone-425423679Last week I attended an online workshop presented by Middle Grade and YA author Jen Malone on the topic of Show Don’t Tell.

The class focused on opening scenes, and how to write them in a way that provides enough information for your readers to understand what’s going on without drowning them in backstory. Following are a couple of gems I gleaned from the class.

First, a handy little rule of thumb for gauging the balance between showing and telling in your first scene. If you’re not sure if it’s too heavy on the telling, try visualizing it as a movie opening. If you need a voice-over to get through the scene, you’re telling too much.

The other thing she said that really struck me was to envision your main character the way you want them to be at the end of the story and then create a first scene that portrays the character as the opposite of that.

That was fairly easy to do for Lilith, my protagonist, because she’s a familiar character from my previous two books. The character I’ve been struggling with is Samael, Lilith’s ex-husband and the head of Hell’s legal department (i.e. the devil’s advocate).

I knew some of his character traits: ambitious, competitive (every lawyer I’ve ever met is over-the-top competitive) and a mind like a steel trap. But I couldn’t figure out what this would look like in my opening scene.

So, I tried out her method. At the end of the story, I want him to be:

  • Willing to give up being a power in Hell
  • Willing to lose if it will give him the life he wants
  • In touch with his emotions and able to recognize that not all choices can be made strictly via logic
  • Family-focused

Which means at the beginning I want to portray him as:

  • Ambitious
  • Competitive
  • Ruthlessly logical
  • Career-driven

This may not sound like much, but now that I know how to portray him in that opening scene, I feel like I have a much better handle on it.

What tricks do you use to help you get started?

Michille: Beach Reads 2020 (and before)

His Lady to ProtectI’m a week late to post for the start of the summer season with the holiday weekend behind us wherein lots of folks (idiots) in my area and around the country headed to the beach. For our non-US friends, Memorial Day in the US is a federal holiday for remembering and honoring people who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. It is currently observed on the last Monday of May, which means a lot of Americans have the day off (and head out of town or have a cookout).

With beaches on the mind (or currently in my imagination), I was thinking about beach reads for this summer. I’m not heading out anytime soon because having 100,000 Americans die of COVID-19 (that we know of) scares the crap out of me, especially since I was dog sick in January just after returning from a 2-week trip to China. Pneumonia makes me one of those ‘vulnerable population’ folks. But I will probably have some time to put my nose in a book despite the new crazy workload created by this pandemic (and I’m just so incredibly thankful that I have a job that I can still do [albeit 12 hrs a day]). Continue reading

Michille: Character Actions

Reading Week Lessons LearnedOne of my favorite writer blogs is Writers Write. Most of what they write about is creative, but they also discuss business writing, and blogging and social media. A recent topic was a fun one for me – 60 Things for Your Characters To DO When They Talk or Think. What things can characters be doing while talking? What actions will reveal character more thoroughly?

When I read the list, I mixed up a few which ended up giving me amusing images, like bathing a cat (I mixed up giving a dog a bath and cuddling a cat) and watering a child (mixed up watering houseplants with watching a child play). Of course, giving a cat a bath could create some hilarity in a story. Some of them seem a little too much like sittin’-and-thinkin’ activities, like knitting, hiking alone, or waiting in the doctor’s office. Continue reading

Jeanne: Six Sigma for Fiction: The Action Workout

Depositphotos_27159627_l-2015This is the last of my posts on adapting manufacturing quality improvement techniques for fiction writing (unless I randomly remember another one at some point and see a connection).

The Action Workout was a group collaboration technique. The way it works is, you get a bunch of people into a room to review a process with an end goal of slimming the process down to its essentials, removing both unnecessary cost and opportunities for mistakes.

How, you ask, can this possibly be adapted for fiction writing? Hang with me and I’ll explain.

In the Action Workout as taught by a couple of women who ran the IT Help Desk at the manufacturer where I worked, the goal was to break the process into each of its discrete steps, identifying the steps that provided something of value to the customer. If a step didn’t add customer value, you looked for ways to remove it.

Let’s use a coffee shop as an example. What are the steps to serving a customer? Continue reading