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Friday, September 2, 2011

My Gratitude Journal: Writers' Groups

PLEASE NOTE: I am running my first-ever contest. To learn more, click on the little blue "Contest" tag at right. Welcome!

Today I express my gratitude for writers' organizations. My first was RWA, the Romance Writers of America. It was 1989 and I had just sold my first book to the Silhouette Romances line. (It later appeared as #702, BENEATH SIERRA SKIES, soon to be re-released in digital form.) Writing friends said I needed to be part of RWA and I joined.

Some of it may have been a little silly. I remember the conference when, because I had been charged with an announcement to give to the group, I ended up seated at a table with the Bartling brothers, three blond body builders-turned-cover-model. I had no idea what to say and the brothers seemed tongue-tied in front of a woman their mother's age.

Then the natural comment came to mind: "I know this isn't how I'm expected to react to you guys, but you remind me of my sons." Bingo! We had a great chat, and the Bartlings -- Jim, Kurt, and Chris -- became my mental models for Jim, Kurt and Chris McAllister, the heroes in the first three books in my Rainbow Rock series, written for Avalon in the 1990s.

One of my favorite author groups is Novelists, Inc. I was among the first people to join when it was just getting rolling, and these twenty-plus years later, it still is a top-notch source of information for authors of popular fiction. I don't know what I'd do without them!

NINC (Novelists, Inc.) also gave my husband his publisher, since a fellow member of the group, Fran Baker, was stretching her wings in publishing some of her own work as well as good work from her writing friends. Roger's second book, SENIOR SHOWERS, is available this summer.

So today I praise writers' groups and give thanks to the groups from which I learn and upon which I lean. I hope I don't lean too hard!

On whom do you lean? Share?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

One Fine Hero

PLEASE NOTE: I am running my first-ever contest. To learn more, click on the little blue "Contest" tag at right. Welcome!

This week we're looking at how we write a protagonist, and more specifically, a romantic hero. One of the favorites I've written is Jim McAllister. Known back in high school as Little Jimmy, Jim was a late-bloomer. As he says to Meg (our heroine) when they first meet again ten years after high school graduation, "No one calls me little anymore." Tee-hee.

Here's the description of Jim from the first time Meg sees him again, not yet knowing who he is. From the opening pages of RIDE THE RAINBOW HOME.

...that was when she saw him, the most beautiful man she had ever seen. He was climbing Valley Hill some forty yards away. His muscular upper body, bare and bronzed, was dappled by the spotty light as he worked his way up the bluff. He wore old, well-fitted jeans and climbing boots, and the light breeze riffled his leonine man of thick blond hair. He seemed essential and ageless, at one with the bluff, the desert, and the perfect sky.

And that, my friends, is just the beginning. (Jim was fun to write. Can you tell?)

In AT THE RAINBOW'S END, Jim's younger brother, Kurt, meets Alexa when he rescues her from the aftermath of an auto accident. Here is her observation about her Good Samaritan.

Even a woman with blinders on - and Alexa had been wearing blinders since she had first stated her ambition to be a screenwriter -- couldn't help but notice that her cowboy Samaritan was a hunk. She estimated his height at about six-two, tall enough to make her feel tiny. Add that to shoulder-length golden hair, a splendid tan, and a physique to die for, and it made for one fine-looking man.

Even with a dog's face, he'd have turned heads, but Kurt McAllister had a face made for movie close-ups. His forehead was broad, his hazel-green eyes well spaced, his nose long and straight. His brows were thick but tidy, his cheekbones high and strong, his jaw square. His was an altogether beautiful masculine face. Only the lips suggested a more delicate look.

If you're thinking Kurt must also have been fun to write, you are dead on target. :-)

Do you have some fun descriptions to share?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Web Tip: Character Chart

PLEASE NOTE: I am running my first-ever contest. To learn more, click on the little blue "Contest" tag at right. Welcome!

While you're creating that gorgeous (or not) hero, you may want to know more about him. For today's web tip, let me refer you to a Character Chart created by author Charlotte Dillon.

In my own humble opinion, part of the fun of writing is in discovering new things about my characters. (I once turned to my dh and said, “Did you know Stephanie is afraid of suffering mental illness the way her grandmother did? She just told me that.”)

Still, even if Ms. Dillon’s chart is too detailed for you, looking at it carefully will help you to discover some of the gaps you may need to fill in – now or later – as you develop your realistic (almost) flesh-and-blood (nearly) characters who will live on the page and in our memories.

If the list of characteristics for your characters, which you see at the top of her Character Chart, don’t fill in all the gaps for you, perhaps the “interview” questions farther down the page will do the trick. If that’s still not enough, have a look at Lucia Zimmitti’s ideas for breathing life into your characters. I’m especially partial to inviting your characters to dinner at your house. Fun! Enjoy!

How do you create your real(istic) characters?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

In a Jam

PLEASE NOTE: I am running my first-ever contest. To learn more, click on the little blue "Contest" tag at right. Welcome!

Part of loving summer fruits is lovingly preserving them. I'm all about the preserves!

If there is a kind of jelly, jam, relish, salsa or chutney I haven't tried, I guarantee it appears on my "soon to be tried" list. So far this season I have made strawberry and blackberry jams (not too original, I'll admit). As I write, I have plums juicing for my favorite plum jelly recipe. Elderberries and blackberries are ripening in the park as I write and I just got a great new recipe for tomato jam, which is surprisingly delicious.

Last year's tomato-chili salsa made enough to last through the coming year, so I may not make it again this time around, but I'm definitely planning to try the spicy tomato chutney recipe I just found, and my one remaining son who lives locally is campaigning for an onion-garlic chutney that sounds yummy, so I may give it a try as well.

Jalapeno Jelly always sounded to me like a joke until I tried it recently, so I dug up a recipe on the Internet and will soon add a batch or two of that to my store.

Having home-bottled preserves of various flavors waiting in the cupboard makes me feel provident and the fact that my family will still be able to eat even if I don't do the canning means I can think of it as a hobby -- unlike my grandmother who worked over a wood stove in a home without electricity or running water, and who aimed to "put up" 1,000 quarts of fruits and vegetables every year, knowing that might be all she had to feed her children "of a winter."

Not only that, but home-canned preserves make beautiful "gems" of gifts when December comes.

I love the creativity and resourcefulness that comes with canning, resent only slightly the time it takes from writing, and hope I can get even better at it over time.

What makes you feel creative, resourceful, provident? Share?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Creating your Gorgeous Hero

PLEASE NOTE: I am running my first-ever contest. CONGRATULATIONS to Ellen Sannar-Welch, the winner in this week's drawing. Ellen, you've just won a hardback romance novel valued at $23.95. There are two more weeks and two more winners to go. To learn more, click on the little blue "Contest" tag at right. Welcome!

Let's say you are writing romance -- or almost anything, really. One thing you need is a perfect hero. Right?

Of course he’s gorgeous: tall and strong and fit and handsome and … wait a minute. Is he always? Must he be?

In her book Home Fires (1995), Luanne Rice taught me that a handsome hero isn’t necessary – at all. Her character, Anne, is rescued by a hideously scarred firefighter so monstrously ugly that the neighborhood children dare each other to look at him. Although Thomas Devlin is frightening to see, his broken heart is incomparably tender. The reasons for his scarring make him even more endearing and it isn’t long before Anne is in love.

Think of “Beauty and the Beast” and all the modern take-offs on this old, traditional tale. I suspect the tale began in ancient times when fathers arranged their daughters’ marriages. (I know; it still happens in many parts of the world, but here I’m speaking of western Europe where this tale originated.) The daughters got whatever they got and had to learn, like Belle, to bring out the prince in the beasts they married.

Vanessa Hudgens recently relearned this lesson in the movie Beastly and Andie McDowell got the chance to watch Bill Murray struggle with the curse of living the same day over and over again until he was worthy of her love. (What? You didn’t realize Groundhog Day was a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast”? Neither did I. The dh had to mention it before I caught on.)

So the hero must be attractive in some very compelling ways, but he doesn’t have to be traditionally handsome – and please, please avoid the cliché “features too rugged to be called handsome.” Even if that’s what he looks like, let's please find a different way to say it. (For the record, I feel the same way about Bella's observation that Edward is "too beautiful to be real." Sigh.

More on PERFECT heroes later. In the meantime, why not share a description of a fictional hero you found appealing?