Friday, April 20, 2018

Fiction Friday: Is it a Romance or a Love Story?

When I got The Demon Always Wins, the the first book in my Touched by a Demon series back from my editor, Karen Harris, she said my story didn’t know whether it was a romance or a love story.
I was mystified. A romance is a love story and vice versa, right?
Wrong.
Karen explained that romances always have happy endings, while love stories don’t.
As part of the general background she provided on how she analyzes story, she also explained that the issues keeping the couple apart in a romance might be internal to the characters, or their external circumstances. The same polarity exists in love stories.
Eight Lady Jilly and I spent the next couple of weeks puzzling over this and sending each other dozens of emails with examples, and where we thought those examples fell along the two continuums.
Then, of course, given my background in working alongside computer geeks and statisticians, it occurred to me that this conundrum really lends itself to a matrix analysis. If you make the vertical axis internal vs. external circumstances and the happy/unhappy ending the horizontal axis, you come up with a matrix like you see above.

Once I had the matrix set up, I plotted in a few well-known stories along the axes.
On the Happy Endings end of the scale, I plotted romances. At the top, where the issues keeping the lovers apart are primarily internal, I put a couple of books by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (It Had to be You and Nobody’s Baby But Mine) and Jenny Crusie (Bet Me).
As you move down the chart, external circumstances start to play a larger role. In Twilight, I treat Edward’s vampirism as an external circumstance–it was forced onto him from an outside agency. However, his controlling behavior and insistence that Bella can’t become a vampire, too, is an internal, character-based issue, and that plays a large role in why they can’t be together.
Most romantic suspense novels–think early Suzanne Brockman–fall into that bottom left quadrant–whatever creates the suspense serves to keep the couple apart, but generally, so do their own character flaws. At the very bottom of that axis, I put Princess Bride–Wesley and Buttercup would be perfectly happy to be together but circumstances force them apart.
Since happy endings are binary–they either are or they aren’t, there’s nothing in the middle of the diagram.
Over on the right, though, we have all the stories with unhappy endings. The issues keeping Rhett and Scarlet apart are internal (except when she’s married, and that never lasts long).
In Wuthering Heights, class-ism keeps Heathcliff and Cathy apart, but so does their wildness.
Still further down the axis, we find Brokeback Mountain. Ennis and Jack are held apart by the danger of being openly homosexual in a profoundly homophobic world, but also by Ennis’ commitment to his family.
At the bottom of the axis lies Romeo and Juliet,  another pair of teenagers kept apart by the world.
Do you agree or disagree with my analysis? If you write romance/love stories, where does you work fall on this matrix?

Friday, April 13, 2018

Fiction Friday: Interview with Lark Brennan

Lark was one of the first writers to volunteer to be interviewed when I sent out my call, and I’m so glad she did! Since I always buy at least one of my interviewees’ books and read it before going on to research the author and put together what I hope will be interesting questions, this interview introduced me to a new favorite author.Dangerously Yours HR
Question 1: I truly loved Dangerously Yours. Your world-building was seamless, the characters of Lex and Bodie were engaging and the plot escalated smoothly along a trajectory linked to Bodie’s character arc. That’s pretty much the trifecta. Given that Dangerously Yours is your first novel, where did you learn to write so seamlessly?
Thank you, Jeanne! It’s always a thrill when someone loves one of my books. 
Dangerously Yours was my first published book, but not the first one I wrote. That was a 400 page, single-spaced mess which will never see the light of day again, but it taught me I could finish a book.
Then I discovered RWA and ate up every craft workshop at our three local chapters and the national convention. I kept writing and connected with a fabulous critique partner—Sarah Andre who you interviewed here in December. She, too, was serious about publishing and is still the first person who reads my polished “final” draft.
My next manuscript was a romantic suspense that finaled in some contests and garnered requests (and rejections) from several agents. Meanwhile on a trip to Paris I visited a wonderful place called Deyrolle and came up with an idea for a book about a man who had the ability to bring taxidermied animals to life. That man became Adrien Durand, the hero of what was eventually published as the second Durand book—Irresistibly Yours. I struggled with that story—wanting to create a serious conflict for a damaged man—and might have given up if not for Sarah’s insistence that I finish. That manuscript got me my agent, Becca Stumpf.
Although it seemed that my publishing career was about to take off, Becca saw both the potential and flaws in that manuscript and had me rewrite it for her twice before she’d submit it to editors. Unfortunately, after all our work, it was an out-of-the-box story and didn’t sell. I so loved Lex Durand in that book, I wrote her book while Adrien’s was out on submission and that became Dangerously Yours.
By the time Dangerously Yours sold, I was getting more confident in my writing and storytelling. Then my editor at Diversion, Randall Klein, ruthlessly cut out all the “boring stuff” and taught me about pacing. The end result was a book I am very proud of—thanks to everyone who helped me learn craft.
That’s a long answer but learning to write has been a long process for me—and I think it is for most people. And there’s always something new to learn from workshops, reading, talking with other authors, and most of all writing. Hopefully each book I write will be better than the last.
Question 2: You decided to publish with Diversion Books, the publishing company founded by Scott Waxman as the e-book arm of his literary agency in 2010. What made you select Diversion?
My agent knew the Diversion people and submitted Dangerously Yours to them along with other publishers. When they offered a contract, I felt we’d be a good match. They not only published e-books, but distributed print books of my series to bookstores including B&N and local indies. I loved working with my editor—a brilliant guy who didn’t let me get away with romance-y clichés and helped me hone my voice. Working with the team has been an invaluable experience that taught me a lot about publishing.
Question 3: From the bio on your site, it sounds like you’ve done a lot of traveling. What’s your favorite destination and why?
That’s a hard question. There are so many places I adore–sailing in the British Virgin Islands, and exploring England, Scotland and Ireland are trips I can do over and over.
That said, I love France and return there whenever I can. My husband and I often rent an apartment in Paris in the winter. It’s only a couple doors down from Deyrolle, the inspiration for Irresistibly Yours. Being Parisian for a week or two when all the tourists are gone is fun and relaxing, and we feel like we’re part of the life of the city, not just visitors.
In other seasons we rent houses in various areas of the countryside—the Dordogne, Loire Valley, Bordeaux, Côtes d’Azur/Provence. There are so many things to do—visit chateaux, browse village markets, enjoy beaches or mountains, or just watch the sunset from a terrace with an excellent glass of local wine. Plus we’ve made some dear French friends over the years. The lifestyle, food, and culture feel natural to me—maybe I was French in a past life or have French ancestors, and the country is in my blood.
Lark Brennan
Lark Brennan’s love of reading, writing and travel has led her to a string of colorful jobs and a well-worn passport – as well as several years spent sailing and diving in the Virgin Islands. Her travels have inspired her romantic suspense series, The Durand Chronicles, which takes place in some of her favorite destinations–the British Virgin Islands, Paris, Glacier National Park, New Orleans and Scotland.
Lark dreams of one day moving to the South of France, and in the meantime lives in Texas with her brilliant husband and two adorable canine “children.”


Friday, April 6, 2018

Fiction Friday: March Progress Report

A funny thing happened on my way to accomplishing my March goals: I was notified that the second book in my Touched by a Demon series, The Demon’s in the Details, is a finalist for RWGH Finalist MedallionA’s® 2018 Golden Heart® award.
So, yippee!
I know that I can’t really claim that an event that didn’t occur until 3/4 of the way through the month constitutes a valid excuse for making so little progress on my goals, but it really was a complete distraction from March 21st onward.
Three years ago, when The Demon Always Wins was a finalist (under the title Demon’s Don’t), I got a request to see the entire manuscript from one of the final round judges. The book was far from ready for prime-time, and the anonymous editor or agent that requested the manuscript never followed up.
I’m 95% certain that I want to self-publish, since I’ve already invested so much of my own money to get the editing and the covers done. But, because of that remaining 5%, I spent the past week doing some edits to The Demon’s in the Details so that if a judge wants to see it this time, what I turn in will be stronger than last time. So, I spent the last ten days of the month editing The Demon’s in the Details instead of writing The Demon Wore Stilettos.
My goals for March, as you may recall, were:
  1. Get The Demon’s in the Details through developmental edit.
Status: Sent my manuscript off to Karen Harris, my developmental editor, on March 8th, right on schedule. To my knowledge, she hasn’t started work on it yet, but that’s out of my control. (Note about goals: It’s never wise to set goals that are not  within your control.)
2. Get a draft of the cover for The Demon’s in the Details. 
Status: Done. If you’d like to see it, along with the covers for the other two books in the trilogy, you can find them here.
3. Complete the scene list for The Demon Wore Stilettos.
Status: I have a list of 45 scenes.  Marking this one “done” with the proviso that the goal should have read: Complete a draft scene list.
4. Complete 15,000 words on The Demon Wore Stilettos.
Status: So about that… I was in trouble with this goal long before I got the call from Farrah Rochon, telling me I’d earned the right to display the medallion you see at the top of this post. I wound up with 4000 words this month.
I got really stuck on how to get the party started. I’m clear on that now, but not optimistic enough to proclaim that it will be smooth sailing from here on out.
Still, she persisted.
Goals for April:
  1. Write 15,000 words on The Demon Wore Stilettos.
  2. Prep my first-ever newsletter to go out May 1. (If you’re interested in receiving it, you can sign up here.)
  3. Design updated business cards with my branding to take to Denver for the RWA national conference in July.
  4. Decide on some swag to put in the Goody room at the RWA national conference. We’ll talk about what makes good swag (in my opinion) in another post.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

A 1950's Easter Story

When I was four years old, my parents hid sugar cubes for Easter.

Our family usually celebrated Easter, as most American families did in the 1950's, by coloring eggs on Saturday night. Mom would dissolve little dye tablets in boiling water laced with vinegar, (To this day, I associate the smell of vinegar with Easter.) Then we'd take a dozen hard-boiled eggs and color them hues that don't occur in nature--the orange of circus peanuts. the turquoise of a Studebaker fender, the yellow of a polka dot bikini.

The next morning, before we got up, Mom and Dad would hide the eggs in our backyard and claim the Easter bunny put them there. We totally believed them. (It's no bigger leap to believe in a cheapskate Easter Bunny who simply conceals the eggs you colored yourself than it is to believe in a Santa who shops at all the same stores your parents do.)

But one Easter morning when we went outside for the big safari, instead of brightly colored eggs, the grass was riddled with sugar cubes.

This memory is crisp and perfect in my mind: my sisters and I tumbling out the back door, dressed in our Easter best, The sky is a cloudless blue, the sun is a yellow disk rising up from the Eastern horizon, the grass is a bright, spring green, and everywhere you look are sugar cubes.

AS an adult today, I realize this makes absolutely no sense. What kind of parents would hide sugar cubes? If the dew didn't melt the sugar into syrupy glop, they'd be covered with ants in no time. In my memory, though, they're all over the backyard, solidly cube-shaped and insect-free.

It's crazy. I know that, but there it is.

Last Easter, my sister Rita, who is sixteen months older than I, was up visiting from Florida. I told her about this ridiculous memory, expecting her to scoff at my over-active imagination. Instead, she burst out laughing.

"It was hail," she said. "It was the first time we ever saw hail."

In my memory, the corners on those dice-shaped Easter treats melt away. The sugar cubes of my recollection take on a more rounded form. Far in the distant past, I reach out a small hand to touch one and it's as cold as a popsicle.

Nope, I like the story better with sugar cubes.





Friday, March 30, 2018

Fiction Friday: A Series of Unfortunate Events

One of the things that’s different about writing in a series, versus writing a standalone book, is that the world-building requires a lot more planning. It’s kind of like playing chess. They say that chess masters, for each potential move, project out the next five possible moves before choosing one. That’s probably why I don’t play chess.
To be perfectly honest, my brain is not the least bit strategic. Back in my days of working as an IT manager at a Fortune 1000 corporation, they used to hold these planning sessions where people would sit around for days, blue-skying about all the things the company might want to do, and jawing on and on about all the potential outcomes for each scenario.
Those sessions made me want to stick a fork in my eye.
I would come up with any excuse I could (the shipping system is down! the file system  is full!) to get out of there. I was good tactically–you figure out what you want to do and I can make that happen–but I stunk at long-term strategy.
It was when I was finishing up  Book 2 in my Touched by a Demon series that I realized this may be a problem in my new career as a novelist, too. In Book 2, Keeffe, my protagonist, has Lilith, her antagonist and she demon, sign a contract in blood. Keeffe’s demon boyfriend later tells her she’s brilliant, that contracts signed in blood are the only kind that are enforceable in Hell.
Okay, that sounds reasonable.
Except it made me realize that Dara, the protagonist in the first book, signs a contract with Satan, but there’s no mention of blood. Since the first book hasn’t been published yet, I was able to go back and add that in.
But now I’m a little concerned.
I’m planning at least seven books in this series, one for each of the Seven Deadly Sins. What happens, down the road, when I have three books out in the world and I want to expand on the world I’ve built in some unforeseen way?
Before I publish the first one, I think I’m going to need to give some strategic thought to the entire series.
Could someone hand me a fork, please?

Friday, March 23, 2018

Fiction Friday: Getting to Know You


Stilettos


In mid-February I started work on the third book in my Touched by a Demon trilogy, The Demon Wore Stilettos. I’ve been looking forward to this one, because the she-demon Lilith, who has been a minor character in the previous two books, finally gets to take center stage.
I’ve had this book in the back of my mind for a while, so I knew the general premise: Megan Kincaid, a recent MFA graduate, sells her soul to Satan in exchange for making the New York Times bestseller list.
I also knew I wanted to make this a second-chance-at-love story, so I wanted Megan to have an old love she would team with to escape Satan’s clutches.
And that was all I knew.
The first question I needed to answer about this character was: what made her so ambitious she would sell her soul for success? So I googled, “What makes people ambitious?”
Reading through the various things that came back (Quora is awesome for providing lists of possibilities for questions like this), I created this list:
  1. Lack of paternal love/approval
  2. Impoverished childhood
  3. Sibling rivalry
  4. Immigrant background
  5. Needs to prove something to someone
  6. Needs money for something specific
  7. Frustrated by lack of opportunity
  8. Because they’re brave enough to challenge themselves to achieve beyond their background
  9. Desire to prove themselves worthy; for example, an adopted child
  10. Desire to prove others wrong
I let all this roll around in the back of my head for a couple of days before choosing No. 9. Megan, I decided, was adopted. Since all my demon books have an inspirational element, she was adopted by an older couple, a minister and his wife. Reverend Paul Kincaid and his wife Edna were wonderful people, but the church community constantly reminded Megan how fortunate she was and how she needed to repay the Reverend and his wife by being successful. Megan is determined to do just that.
But this didn’t feel like enough to justify selling your soul to the devil–especially if you were brought up Lutheran. I decided to give Megan a younger sister, Kendra, whose reaction to the good people in the congregation was the opposite of Megan’s. Kendra, instead, went the way of their drug-addicted mother. At seventeen, she gave birth to a son with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
Just as Megan was preparing to graduate from Columbia with her MFA, (and a carload of student debt), little sister got caught dealing drugs. Rev. Paul and Sister Edna had already spent everything they had and mortgaged their house, dealing with Kendra’s past issues.
Then Lilith showed up, offering to publish Megan’s MFA project and make it a bestseller. The chance for Megan to bail out her sister and pay for a good treatment program, while also achieving her dreams and showing the community the Kincaids were right to take a chance on her, was too much to resist. She signed.

Because she was smart, though, she had her boyfriend, a third-year law student, review the contract. He suggested she ask for not just one, but seven bestsellers. He also made an amendment to one of the exit clauses.

The boilerplate contract stated that if the signer performs an act  of complete altruism, they're off the hook. This is a fake out, though, because any act that gets the signer out of the contract, by definition, is not completely altruistic. James amended that clause to say that the fact that the act frees the signer from the contract cannot be taken into consideration in determining its altruism. 

As the book opens, Megan has already turned in her seventh and final manuscript to her editor. In two weeks it will be released and will almost certainly hit the NYT bestseller list. On that day, Satan will collect her soul. 
Okay, gentle readers–what are your thoughts?. If it doesn’t work for some reason, I’d rather know now!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Fiction Friday: Interview with Stacy McKitrick

Stacy was the treasurer of my local RWA chapter, Central Ohio Fiction Writers, for the past two years before handing the account books over to me. We carpool for the seventy-
Ghostly Interlude, FINAL, updated 4x6odd miles to our monthly chapter meeting, so I’ve gotten to know her a bit. She is, without question, one of the most joyful writers I’ve ever known. Her characters live and breathe for her–and she adores every breath they take, even when they’re not behaving well.
Question 1: A love of the Twilight series led you to write your first novel. What was it about those books that fired your imagination, and how is that reflected in your work?
Yes, I absolutely loved Twilight, and it introduced me to paranormal romance. As a fan of Stephen King and Dean Koontz, I never even thought vampires could be good. But what really fired my imagination was wondering what Edward was thinking the whole time! I wanted his POV soooooo badly. So I think that’s what got me to writing my first book. And it’s why I always have at least two POVs (the heroine AND hero). I don’t want to frustrate MY readers.
Question 2: You’ve had traditionally published books, with Kensington, and you’ve self-published. Contrast your experiences with each type of publication.
I don’t know if I would have self-pubbed without the experience of being traditionally published first. Lyrical Press and Kensington taught me so much and I believe they made me a better writer. After publishing with them, I knew what needed to be done to be published (although it still took my husband’s offer of help to format to take that self-pub leap). So if I had to do it all over again, I would still go the traditional route first. Because to me it was the same as going to college and earning that degree.
Question 3: You served in the Armed Forces when you were young. Does any of that experience show up in your books?
I joined the Army when I was 17 (although I didn’t start serving until I was 18). Why did I join? Because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I couldn’t see going to college (felt it would have been a waste of money then) and I certainly didn’t want to stay at home. People think I’m brave; I thought I was a coward. Haha! As for the experience showing up in my books? I don’t know. All my life experiences are probably in there. I served during peace time (76-81), and it was a job like any other (except they made me exercise!). Pretty boring. Well… except for meeting my husband and living in Alaska. Those were pretty great.
Stacy (2)
Stacy McKitrick fell in love with paranormal romance, decided to write her own, and found her passion in life. She used to work in accounting, now she spends her time with vampires and ghosts, and is the author of the Bitten by Love and the Ghostly Encounter series. Born in California, she currently resides in Ohio with her husband. You can learn more about Stacy at her website www.stacymckitrick.com.

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