Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Going Back

Meg at Hondo's

Visiting Hondo’s in April

It’s not much of a secret that Konigsburg, Texas, the setting for my Konigsburg series for Samhain Publishing, is loosely based on Fredericksburg, Texas, a premier vacation site in the Texas Hill Country. I find it a lot easier to write about places I know, mostly Texas and Colorado since those are the places where I’ve lived the longest. My hubs and I visit Fredericksburg once or twice a year since we go to Texas regularly to visit our kids and Fredericksburg happens to be in the heart of Texas wine country.

We were there again just last month and decided to have dinner at a restaurant I actually used in the books. I based the Faro, a former dive now turned into a first-class restaurant and music venue (see Brand New Me, Don’t Forget Me, Fearless Love, and Hungry Heart), on Hondo’s in Fredericksburg. We used to eat there before it was Hondo’s, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it was called then. All I really remember were the many stuffed animals on the walls and the terrific southwestern Cobb salad that used to be on the menu.

Well, like they say, you can’t go home again. Hondo’s is now mostly a bar and music venue. Their menu is largely barbeque and burgers. No more Cobb salad. And the inside is radically different—the buffalo head with earrings is no longer a fixture.

More seriously, I was amazed at how much smaller the place was in reality than it was in my memory. When I changed Hondo’s to the Faro, I fleshed it out with pool tables, a bar, a beer garden and lots of space for dining. Hondo’s does in fact have a beer garden, but it’s not the spacious place I remembered. In fact, I’m beginning to think I may have conflated the outdoor spaces at Floore’s General Store and Gruene Hall with the relatively modest outdoor area at Hondo’s.

So my visit was a disappointment, but I’m not sure it should have been. The Faro, after all, is my very own creation. Yes, I thought of Hondo’s when I was writing it, but obviously I thought of a lot of other places too. I wanted a space that would fulfill certain requirements—a bar, a restaurant, a music space, a place where lovers could meet unexpectedly. The Faro was and is all of those things. Hondo’s probably is too, but it doesn’t match the place I created in my mind.

I’d argue that authors shouldn’t be held to closely to account for their created spaces.

If I were trying to describe Buckingham Palace, then I could be brought up on charges of misrepresentation (and that may well be another reason why I’ll never do historical novels). But the Faro is mine—I’m sole owner and proprietor. Thus I’m not really answerable to anybody but my characters. And they seem to like it fine. As Janie Dupree Toleffson remarks in Brand New Me, “I can’t believe what Tom Ames has done with this place. It’s really nice.”

Tom Ames and me, Janie. Tom Ames and me.

Finding Mr. Right NowIf you write, sooner or later someone will ask you where you get your ideas. It’s a logical question, particularly for people who’d like to write but who aren’t sure how to go about getting started. Unfortunately, for me it’s a tough question to answer. Sometimes I remember how I got an idea, but most frequently I don’t.

Take Finding Mr. Right Now, my next book from Samhain (released on June 2 and available for preorder now). Finding Mr. Right Now is about a reality show, Finding Mr. Right. It’s (very) loosely based on the bachelor and bachelorette shows. But I have to admit—I don’t watch those shows and never have. The closest I’ve come is reading articles about the bachelors and bachelorettes in People and Us magazines (although once I started writing the book, I did check out some episodes on Hulu). Still, I sort of remember wondering what would happen if the bachelor or bachelorette happened to fall in love with the wrong person during the course of those shows.

That would be interesting. However, it’s not the plot of Finding Mr. Right Now. My problem was that as I considered the contestants on those shows, I just couldn’t figure out how to make them the heroes or heroines of the book. Being the bachelor or bachelorette requires a certain “willing suspension of disbelief.” Face it: trying to find your one true love among a group of strangers in front of millions of people isn’t exactly a romantic situation. It requires either a certain degree of naiveté or the willingness to pretend to be naïve about the chances of finding Mr. or Miss Right under those circumstances. Neither possibility appealed to me much for a hero or heroine. I didn’t really want to deal with either a naïve protagonist or a deceptive one.

So I started modifying my original idea. What if the hero wasn’t a willing bachelor at all? What if he got dragged into the whole thing against his will? And just to up the ante a bit, what if he fell in love with the wrong someone while he was being an unwilling bachelor? That was the germ of the story that became Finding Mr. Right Now.

I made some other adjustments along the way. For example, I’d originally thought I’d make the bachelorette at the center of the show a villain. But once I started writing, I discovered that I really liked Ronnie Ventura, even though she was a little too naïve to be the heroine of the book (she grows up, though—look for her in book 3 of the trilogy). But the original idea still worked. An unwilling bachelor, his unexpected true love, and the town that supports them.

I’m still not sure where the idea came from, though. Maybe I’ll just blame my muse.

The Self-Aware Alpha

RickI’ve weighed in on the alpha hero debate in the past. I’m not a big fan of traditional alphas—the tormented tough guys who don’t much like women but are willing to make an exception in the heroine’s case. My problem with them stems from the only slightly latent misogyny in the concept and the fact that a lot of the alphas I’ve known in real life have been jerks. But I’m not particularly taken with the ill-defined “beta heroes” either. At best they seem to be alphas with a sense of humor. At worst, they’re nuts.

So what am I looking for in a hero, anyway? It occurred to me the other day that what I really want is a self-aware alpha or SAA. Alphas do, in fact, have some positive characteristics. They’re usually honorable, loyal, and protective. To those positives, the SAA can add not just a sense of humor (which he usually has in spades), but a sense of the absurd—something the average alpha needs desperately.

Because when you think about it, the role of the alpha is basically sort of, well, silly. He’s encouraged to embrace ideas and attitudes that will probably get him a lot of bruises and possibly a life-threatening injury or two. Think of Rick in Casablanca, mocking the absurdity of his melodrama: “I came to Casablanca for the waters.” “The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert.” “I was misinformed.” His position is both heroic and faintly ridiculous, and he knows it only too well.

Moreover, if the heroine is worth the hero’s time, she’s likely to be unimpressed by his alphaness. The days of the heroine who swooned with gratitude at the big, strong man who came to rescue her are long gone. While the heroine frequently can’t rescue herself, she’s at least going to try. “This is some rescue,” Princess Leia snarls at Han Solo before she figures a way to get them out of the Empire’s prison.

For me, there’s a great deal of attractiveness in a man who can see the absurdity of the task he’s set for himself, and who can occasionally laugh over his stumbles. Someone who takes himself, and his heroic role, with a very large grain of salt.

Most of the writers I admire write this kind of hero, particularly those whose books have a slightly humorous approach. Jennifer Crusie’s books are wonderful examples (see Faking It and Welcome To Temptation). Susan Elizabeth Phillips is similar (check out Natural Born Charmer). Loretta Chase has done it again and again: Lord Perfect and Mr. Impossible both have SAAs. Writers who do less humorous books can also come up with the self-aware hero. Joanna Bourne’s spy series has both impossibly smart heroines and impossibly sophisticated SAAs—my favorite being Adrian Hawkhurst of The Black Hawk. Eloisa James conjures up a wonderful self-aware hero in Three Weeks With Lady X. Even Nora Roberts has the occasional SAA, such as the cartoonist hero of Tribute.

I’ve tried to make all my heroes SAAs, although some of them are more in that mold than others. My newest hero, Paul Dewitt in Finding Mr. Right Now is definitely SAA. He’s a writer on a reality show (yes, they have writers) who gets dragooned into being a bachelor on a new bachelorette-finds-love program. He knows only too well how absurd his life has become, particularly when he falls for the show’s associate producer. As we say in the romance business, hijinks ensue—but the right people end up together in the end.

Because, of course, any romance heroine worth her salt will value a SAA. Just look at Han and Leia or any of the other couples mentioned above. A sexy guy with a sense of humor and a healthy dose of self-knowledge. What’s not to love?

Finding Mr. Right NowIf I were given a choice between writing a synopsis and writing a blurb (and believe me, that’s a horrible choice), I’d go with the synopsis. Synopses are basically summaries, and most of us have some experience with summarizing. You’ve got three or four pages, and your main job is to pick out the major incidents of the plot without getting too bogged down in detail. And, of course, you have to make the prose flow without constantly saying And then. They’re not fun to write, but I can usually knock one out in a couple of hours.

Blurbs, on the other hand, suck.

Blurbs are the copy found on the back of print books or at the front of ebooks. They’re also the copy that shows up in ads for the book and on Web pages. While you have three or four pages for synopses, you’ve got three or four paragraphs (at most) for the blurb. And the language has to be sort of “peppy.”

Basically, you’re writing ad copy, and for those of us who have never been in the advertising or marketing business, the process can be excruciating. My first impulse is always to overdo the peppiness. I use many, many exclamation marks!!!!! I may use italics with abandon. If I’m blurbing a contemporary romance, I emphasize fun, fun, fun.

After I’ve read over the first draft and started to moan, I settle down and try again. This time I try to think about what’s really going on in the book. What’s the real reason a person might enjoy reading it?

The extreme brevity means I’m never able to include everything that happens in the book, but I try to suggest the major themes, or at least some of them. Chances are, though, that I’ll end up leaving out something crucial just because I have to.

So about the blurb for Finding Mr. Right Now. As usual, I had a lot of professional help (most publishing houses have blurb editors who can kick your blurbs into shape). And as usual, not everything that happens in the book shows up in the blurb. But it does cover the basics: reality show, Colorado mountain town, hot couple.

Monica McKellar, associate producer of Finding Mr. Right, is desperate. One of the show’s bachelors has bailed one week before shooting starts. She not only needs a replacement ASAP, he has to get the temperamental bachelorette’s stamp of approval.

Fortunately there’s a hot guy right under her nose who’s a perfect fit. Unfortunately, he pushes all her hot buttons. Until the show’s over, her hands—and every other part of her body—are tied.

When Paul DeWitt signed on to write for the reality show, “Bachelor #10” wasn’t supposed to be in his job description. He fully expects to be cut early on, which will free him to focus on the real object of his attraction. Monica.

Instead, he’s a finalist, and they’re all packed in an SUV climbing the Continental Divide, headed for Salt Box, Colorado. Where stampeding horses, vindictive tabloid editors, and one capricious bachelorette’s waffling over suitors may conspire to end Paul and Monica’s romance before it even starts.

Finding Mr. Right Now is available for preorder from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and All Romance Ebooks. It will be released on June 2.

woman writingA while ago I took a workshop in which the presenter recommended writing a sentence summing up the purpose of each paragraph in a chapter just to make sure all the paragraphs were necessary. At the time, that struck me as torture—and, to be honest, it still does. But the idea behind the exercise was legit. Nothing should be in your book that doesn’t serve a purpose.

No extraneous crap, in other words.

Drilling this down to the paragraph level may be taking things a bit far. But it’s still a good idea to consider the purpose of every detail you include in your story. Because every detail should be there for a reason. Now the reason isn’t always related to the plot. You can have details that relate to character, like your hero rattling change in his pocket to show that he’s nervous. Or you can have details relating to setting, like the insipid punch your heroine sips at Almack’s. And you can certainly have details relating to the story, like all the myriad of real and false clues that show up in most mysteries and thrillers. But everything you include should have some point behind it. If it doesn’t, you’re wasting your time—and your reader’s time.

I was reminded of this principle the other day while I was reading a thriller. The hero had just been reunited with the heroine, his one true love. He was bringing her back to his apartment in order to protect her from the bad guy. On the way in, he stopped to pick up his mail, then dropped it into one of the grocery bags he was carrying upstairs.

Let me tell you, I stayed fixated on that mail for the next five pages. Surely it would come back to be important in the plot. Maybe the mail included a letter with a crucial piece of information. Maybe the hero’s obsession with the heroine would distract him from finding a clue to the villain’s identity. Because surely the author wouldn’t just describe the hero picking up the mail for no particular reason.

Actually, that’s just what she did. The mail, and the fact that the hero stopped to pick it up, never came up again.

I have a good idea why the author chose to include the fact that the hero picked up his mail. She probably thought, “When I come home, I always pick up the mail, so he should do the same thing.” In other words, the author thought she was being realistic. But here’s the thing: real life includes all kinds of things that don’t show up in fiction. Part of the author’s job, in fact, is to pare away the details of life that don’t have any bearing on the story. And in this case, the author failed to do that—and failed pretty spectacularly.

If the mail had been the only detail the author included for no particular reason, it would only be a minor problem. But this particular author included lots of them, so many, in fact, that the plot started to bog down under their weight. And after a while, I just gave up.

Any story will wither if you throw in too much extraneous stuff. The reader may get so tired of trudging through the bog that she won’t stick around for the denouement. As an author, you have a central task. You decide what your readers need to know, and what they don’t. Then you tell them whatever it is they need. And then, dear Lord, you move on.

Finding Mr. Right NowWell, I have a lovely new cover (at left), but the MS is still being edited. Editing with fiction means several things since there are several rounds of edit for most novels.

The first edits come from your editor at the publishing house, and those are usually the most grueling. The editor isn’t particularly concerned with grammar (although she may point out a few obvious errors). She’s more interested in the book itself. Does the plot make sense? Do the characters seem well developed? Are things like motivation clearly explained?

In other words, the editor serves as a kind of highly skilled professional reader. She’ll point out problems that a reader would probably have with the first draft of the MS. Occasionally, a writer may disagree, but in my experience you’re wise to pay attention. If the editor says, “I don’t understand why he’s doing this now,” chances are good that a reader would say the same thing. The suggested changes that come from the editor usually take the most time to deal with. Early on, I had a couple of books with problematic endings. Cleaning those endings up took days of work and long discussions with my critique partners and my hubs.

After the MS meets the editor’s standards, it goes to the copyeditor. This is actually a different level of edit, one that concentrates almost entirely on issues of grammar, punctuation, and adherence to the publisher’s style book. I used to be a freelance copyeditor myself, and I actually taught a class in copyediting for several years. All of which should mean my MS is spotless, but of course it isn’t. One thing all authors would be wise to discover: copyediting your own work is almost impossible. To put it simply, you’ll read what should be there rather than what actually is there. You’ll probably miss incorrect words, unconsciously untangle garbled sentences, and overlook missing punctuation. You’re not stupid. You’re just supplying what you think is already there. This doesn’t include the inevitable problem words that all of us have. For me, it’s the distinction between farther and further, which disappears from my brain as soon as I start writing.

Run-ins with copyeditors are more frequent than run-ins with editors, however. One of the things I told students in my copyediting classes bears repeating: “The book belongs to the author.” Occasionally, you come across a copyeditor who’s a frustrated writer. Edits from these people sometimes have an edge of malice: “If I were writing this, I’d do it so much better than you.” These are the copyeditors who want to do extensive re-writes or who make changes with barely concealed contempt. When writers talk about how much they hate editors, it’s usually this kind of editing they’re talking about. In all honesty, however, I’ve rarely encountered editors like this, and fortunately for all concerned, my copyeditor on Finding Mr. Right Now was an absolute pro.

So that’s where I am at the moment. I have a release date—June 2, 2015. And I have a lovely cover. Now I wait for the next go round in the editing cycle.

Billion Dollar Babies

billionaireBillionaires are in. If you go to Amazon and search for “billionaire” and “romance,” you’ll find a hundred pages of titles. Fifty Shades of Grey is probably the most prominent of these books, but there are lots of others, and the trend has been around for years. I remember reading Christina Dodd’s Just the Way You Are in 2003, and it was far from the first. It goes without saying that these billionaires are all young, handsome, and darkly attractive—although they usually require the transformative power of love to become decent people.

And it also goes without saying that this whole trend is based on extremely shaky foundations. Even a cursory reading of the news turns up billionaires who mistreat their employees to enrich themselves farther, who engage in fraud to enrich themselves farther, and who are just generally jerks. And the idea of the physically attractive billionaire is easily exploded (see: Trump, Donald—or rather, don’t).

Moreover, romance is the only pop fiction genre that seems to have this love affair with the very rich. In thrillers and mysteries, the mysterious billionaire is more likely to be the villain than the hero. And the vicious global conglomerate is a long-standing tradition in science fiction.

So why do we hang onto this convention when it’s so obviously a serious distortion of reality? One answer, of course, is that we’re in the fantasy business here. Most of us probably know that the very rich aren’t famed for the charm and grace, but we really wish they were. In the more ideal romantic society, money would only be found with the honorable. Moreover, we also cling to another fantasy: that wealth doesn’t buy love. The billionaire hero in most of these books has to be schooled by the poor but honest heroine. And once he’s found this noncommercial love, he becomes that ideal super-rich guy who uses his money for good. Sometimes you really wish a man like Richard DeVos or Rupert Murdoch would read a few romances. Then again, they’d probably find them comic.

Still, I’ve managed to avoid the whole billionaire hero business in my own writing. A couple of my heroines, Docia Kent Toleffson and Deirdre Brandenburg, were wealthy (and a fat lot of good it did them). But like other writers, I usually reserve rich guys for villains. Then again, I write contemporary romance, where middle class heroes and heroines are a long-standing tradition. If I were writing regencies, for example, I’d probably be churning out honorable dukes with the best of them.

Like I said, we’re in the fantasy business. Just as long as we don’t let fantasy shade into our view of the real.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,708 other followers