Archive for March, 2013

BoltedAll novels have three major elements—plot, character, and setting—but how novelists deal with them differs from novelist to novelist. We’re all individuals and we all tend to feel our way of proceeding is the best there is. That makes collaborating with other writers on a series an interesting experience.

My normal process for creating characters is just to let them develop as I work out the plot, although I’ve got some really useful spreadsheets I picked up a few years ago from Delilah Devlin that help in sketching out the general details. With Bolted, though, I was in a new situation since it’s part of the four-book Promise Harbor Wedding series with three other writers (Kelly Jamieson, Sydney Somers, and Erin Nicholas). The books aren’t really sequential—they all begin with the same, disastrous wedding ceremony and then take off from there. And some of the same characters show up in all four books. So although I could let my hero and heroine develop over the course of the story, I also had to keep my fellow writers up to date with how they were developing so that they’d seem the same in the other books. And some of my secondary characters, particularly the heroine’s mom, had to be changed slightly so that they’d fit everybody’s concept of what they were like. It was a different way of working and sort of fun.

Usually when I write plot and character develop at the same time. But with Promise Harbor, we all brainstormed the general plot, and then our characters took off from there. We all started with the same situation, seen through different characters’ points of view. In Kelly Jamieson’s Jilted, her POV characters were the groom who’s deserted at the altar and his former girlfriend. Both of them have reason to be heartbroken over what happens, and Kelly’s versions are very emotional. My POV character is the matron of honor. She’s less involved in the situation and a little more cynical herself. So my version tends to be more snarky than angsty. The same things happen in all the versions of the wedding that show up in the four books (in fact, we all had to work together to make sure the incidents in our scenes were the same), but the characters involved make all the difference.

Usually, I have to know how a story ends before I begin writing. I couldn’t really work with a story that was open-ended—I’d be afraid of getting blocked midway through. However, the way the characters get there may change as I work through the story. My heroine’s ex-husband pops up in Bolted, for example, but the idea of him I had before I started writing changed slightly as I began working with him. He developed into a much more interesting character as I wrote him into the story.

Then there’s setting. I’m more comfortable with settings I know. My Texas books all take place in settings I’m very familiar with so that I can describe them without too much strain—I lived in San Antonio (where the Medium trilogy takes place) for over twenty years and I spent a lot of time in the Hill Country, the location for Konigsburg. Again, Bolted was different because we all decided on the setting together. Promise Harbor is in Massachusetts, somewhere vaguely close to Martha’s Vineyard. I did, in fact, live in Massachusetts for a short time many, many years ago, but it’s been a while since I’ve been back. In this case, I had to refresh my memory about how things looked via Flickr and movies like Jumping the Broom that actually take place in the right area. The four of us decided on some common settings, like Barney’s Clam Shack in Promise Harbor. But we also introduced some places that were purely our own. In my case, it was a dilapidated hotel in a little town a few miles up the road that my hero calls Casa Dubrovnik (the owners are Alice and Nadia Dubrovnik). It’s sort of based on places I’ve stayed, but also some half-remembered movies.

So Bolted is different, but I hope it’s different in a good way. The process we used in developing the series was also different, but fun. Every once in a while, it’s good to get out of your comfort zone. So I hope you’ll check out Promise Harbor to see how well we did. Jilted is available now from Samhain. Bolted will be released on April 2, Busted on April 16, and Hitched on April 30. Vive la differénce!



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BoltedA few years ago, when I wrote Wedding Bell Blues, I gave my heroine the most beautiful bridesmaid dress ever, so beautiful it made the hero propose. Some of my readers, however, cried foul. Bridesmaid’s dresses, they said, were uniformly ghastly. The idea that one could be lovely was more unbelievable than any HEA ever written.

Those readers will be much happier with Bolted, my part of the Promise Harbor Wedding quartet (with Kelly Jamieson, Sydney Somers, and Erin Nicholas), to be released on April 2. My heroine in Bolted is the Matron Of Honor at a true wedding disaster, but even before the ceremony itself falls apart, she’s already been saddled with the dress she refers to repeatedly as the “most ghastly bridesmaid dress in the history of mankind.” The dress in question falls into the dreaded Gone With The Wind category: full skirt with the “crinolines from hell” and ruffles everywhere. To make things even more interesting, my bridesmaid heroine escapes from the wedding with only this hideous dress and her fierce determination to take a hike.

I’m not sure why bridesmaids’ dresses are frequently such disasters. I’m sure some brides are deliberately nasty to their attendants, but I’m sure other brides really believe they’ve come up with something just grand. Those of us with these grand dresses hanging in the back of our closets might beg to differ.

Maybe it’s just a matter of clashing tastes, with the difficulty of having one person choose a  dress for three or four others. Maybe the bride is blinded by her own vision of her wedding—she’s going back to medieval Scotland and taking the rest of us with her kicking and screaming. In the case of Bolted, the bride is distracted by some emotional problems and leaves the choice of bridesmaids dresses to her cousin, who turns out to have a serious Gone With the Wind fixation even though the wedding takes place in Promise Harbor, Massachusetts.

But my heroine, Greta Brewster, is nothing is not a survivor. She heads down the road, horrible wedding dress and all, to find her Mr. Right. Conveniently enough, Mr. Right happens to need rescuing just as she appears.

Here’s the blurb for Bolted:

Sometimes you have to get lost before you can find yourself.

The Promise Harbor Wedding, Book 2

Greta Brewster McBain in a bind. Two, if she’s really counting. First there’s the can-barely-breathe, bridesmaid’s dress from hell. Second, the stranger who just carried her “perfect” brother’s fiancée out the church door has made it impossible to tell her own mother about her own divorce.

Rather than confirm her reputation as the family screw-up, Greta takes a drive to clear her head.

Trapped in a hole and unable to reach his cell phone, Hank Mitchell is resigned to becoming a permanent part of his own archeological dig when help arrives—in the form of a woman who looks like a Gone With The Wind refugee. Behind the ruffles and lace, though, is something he appreciates: a woman who isn’t afraid of a little dirt.

Their instant connection draws Greta into the eccentric world of the Hotel Grand, where she impulsively trades her hoopskirts for an apron. Soon things are getting hot, not only in the hotel kitchen, but in Hank’s arms…

Warning: Contains hot moonlit sex, a melancholy turtle, two wisecracking seniors, and the world’s ugliest bridesmaid dress.

Order Bolted

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Who Is That Guy?

Garret DillahuntSo I’m watching Vegas, and all of a sudden there’s this guy in glasses—a character called Jonesy. Only the thing is, I know him. From somewhere, some show, some other show, that is. I’m now no longer paying attention—much—to the story. I’m trying to remember where exactly I saw that actor before. Why he looks so familiar. And then, when the episode is almost over, it comes to me. He was this wormy little creep named Dewey on Justified. Tattoos, weird hair, very pronounced Kentucky accent. Only now he’s wearing hornrims and a snapbrim hat. And to make things even more interesting, according to the IMDB, he’s actually Australian. He’s an actor named Damon Herriman.

I love movies and TV shows, and I tend to remember actors and actresses who make an impression on me. Only I don’t always remember where it is I saw them before. And it usually bugs me until I figure it out—bugs me enough, sometimes, that I spend most of the program trying to figure out who it is and why I know him/her. Which means I don’t always pay as much attention to what’s actually happening on the show.

Take Garrett Dillahunt, for example. I first encountered him in the late-lamented series Life. He played a nasty Russian mobster—he was icy and blond and thoroughly unnerving. His death at the hands of the hero (Damian Lewis, the sort of villain on Homeland) was the climax of the series. I kept running into him on other series like Burn Notice, usually playing villains. It always took me a minute to recognize him because he was no longer blond and no longer had a Russian accent. He got me again, however, when Raising Hope started. It took me forever to recognize the lovably dim father as Garrett Dillahunt, and after that I kept expecting him to have a psychotic episode and blow everybody away.

If you’re a fan of one of the big, character-driven series like The Wire, this can become almost obsessive because those actors keep showing up again and again in other series. “Wait a minute, wait a minute, it’s…Bunk! Isn’t it? Isn’t that him? And isn’t that the guy who played one of the kids in the projects, you know, the one with the hoodie?”

Fortunately for me, my husband is a tolerant soul and doesn’t tell me to please shut up and go away. The latest episode of this particular craziness was when we watched a rerun of an episode of Leverage. The actress who placed Nate’s ex-wife, Kari Matchett, was hauntingly familiar. I could almost remember her doing…something. It drove me crazy until I was fixing dinner the next day and then, suddenly, I remembered she was the head of Annie’s department in Covert Affairs.

This is, of course, fairly nutsy behavior. The only thing that keeps it from edging over into full-blown psychosis is the blessed Internet Movie Database (IMDB). If all else fails, I can flip open my laptop, head over to IMDB while the show is on and generally find a link to whatever previous performance it is that I’m remembering when I see an actor in a current role (“Anne Ramsay on Dexter? Oh yeah. She was Jamie’s best friend on Mad About You!”).

Otherwise, I’d probably be lying there at two a.m., wide awake, still moaning, “I know that actor, I’ve seen him before, who is that guy?”

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Being the Crazy Lady

Advanced StyleI stumbled across Advanced Style by Ari Seth Cohen sort of by accident at my local library—it was an attractive coffee table book, and I wanted something to leaf through. Once I opened the book, though, I was hooked. It’s based on Cohen’s Advanced Style Web site, which he devotes to pictures of stylish women and men of a certain age, that age frequently being somewhere in their eighties. Some of these individuals dress a lot like they probably dressed when they were younger—Chanel suits, stylish hats, fashionable shoes that don’t look like they’d kill you if you wore them for an hour. But some of them are obviously individuals—lots of colors and textures, wild combinations of jewelry, and in at least one case false eyelashes so long you wonder how she can see.

They were wonderful, and I was enchanted.

Part of my enchantment came from having just started Amanda MacKenzie Stuart’s biography of Diana Vreeland. In case you’re not familiar with her, Vreeland was a legendary editor of Vogue in the sixties and seventies. Unlike the present editor, Anna Wintour, Vreeland was never considered a beauty. Her own mother told he she was ugly and others agreed, although many pointed out that her ugliness seemed to disappear once she began to speak. By all accounts, Vreeland gave up early on trying to achieve the conventional idea of beauty. Instead, she went for interesting, which the popular press sometimes equates with crazy. In her sixties and seventies, she wore her black hair in a blunt bob that set off her very white skin (which she sometimes made whiter with powder). Instead of blush, she wore two slashes of rouge across her cheeks, extending to and covering her ears. She wore brilliantly colored clothes that sometimes looked like costumes. And she put Vaseline on her eyelids. Bizarre it might have been, but she carried it off. And nobody could deny that she was one memorable woman.

I think the women in Cohen’s book are similar in a lot of ways. They’ve reached the age where conventional beauty is pretty much beyond them. In a way, we expect them to be invisible—like those elderly women in the grocery store who seem to disappear in the cereal aisle. But these women have chosen a different route, defying expectations and doing their own thing.

And maybe there’s a lesson there. Being beautiful is pretty much a crap shoot, after all, a matter of genetics, iron discipline, and maybe a more-than-passing acquaintance with Photoshop. Those of us who don’t make the cut can either try to come as close as possible or do what Cohen’s ladies have done—say screw it, and go for crazy instead. Wear that wild-looking scarlet kimono jacket. Buy that turquoise scarf with the bangles. Get those crystal earrings that dangle to your shoulders.

What’s the worst that can happen, after all? People may look at you funny, but at least they’re looking. You won’t disappear.

I’m sort of taking the whole crazy lady thing to heart, although crazy in romance land sometimes translates to routine. So check me out at the RT Booklovers Convention. I’ll be the one in the bright yellow ruana with the round Harry Potter glasses. Who knows, I may even Vaseline my eyelids. Couldn’t hurt, right?

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