Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Three great books for writers

I have to start with On Writing by Stephen King. It was one of the first books 'on writing' that I discovered and definitely one of the best. When I first found it I skipped straight to the 'toolbox' section, where Stephen explains - as only Stephen can - how he crafts a manuscript and his views on vexed questions such as adverbs. While we are on that subject, I will just say that although I try to keep the adverb count fairly low in my stories, there is still something to be said for Stephanie Laurens advice to keep some, because women love to know HOW the hero does things (passionately, tenderly, aggressively, reverentially - makes a big difference to a kiss, doesn't it?). Getting back to Stephen King, it was extremely enlightening to read the extract from one of his own manuscripts including all the handwritten edits on it. It is fascinating to see how the great man works.
    My next recommendation is The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell. This book is a shoot-from-the-hip advice manual for writers. It is not about honing your craft. It is about developing a professional mindset, hence chapter headings such as 'You are a business, and your books are the product' and 'Whining will not help you win the battle for publication'. Having said that, this book does include some valuable information about improving manuscripts - I really enjoyed the chapter entitled 'Characters all alone should do more than think'. And I loved the laugh out loud quotes from Terri Blackstock about how the writer's mood is directly linked to their amazon rankings.
     Now, at last, I can tell you how much I enjoyed 'The Newbies Guide to Publishing' by JA Konrath. I laughed all evening yesterday reading it. Not only is it great insider advice about what to do after you get published (and many of us are so mesmerized by that goal that we don't even consider what happens after) it is also an incredibly entertaining read. Now I have to warn you - it is informally written - like a series of blog posts, which may be how it started life, but I laughed out loud all evening reading it. I am a big fan of Joe Konrath from now on, and I am never putting SASEs in my submissions to agents again.
Just so you know - I bought these books, with real money - my husband's money, obviously - but money all the same.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Writer's Shade of Pale

Many thanks to all the people who added some great comments and valuable information to my post about virgin heroes. Many of you are writers I admire, and readers whose opinions matter above everything else. You've given me a lot to think about.

Today, just for fun, I've written an alternative set of lyrics to be sung to the tune of the Procol Harum hit song 'A Whiter Shade of Pale'. It refers to the laptop tan that many of us develop from spending long hours in front of our computer screens. You could also call it 'The Lament of the Commercial Fiction Writer' or anything else that seems appropriate. Before I share it with you, I must give a gracious (and slightly apologetic) bow to Amanda Hocking, whose talents I greatly admire. Here it is:

A Writer Shade of Pale

We want to write our hearts out,
Using adverbs by the score,
We were feeling sick of vampires
But the crowd called out for more!
Brick and mortar’s getting harder,
As our print sales fall away,
So we called out for another drink,
Bring us blood and make it pay!

And so it was, the author,
Halfway through her suckers’ tale,
Heard about Amanda Hocking,
And turned a writer shade of pale.

She said, "There is no reason,
Why we all can’t do as she,"
My lonely vampire isn’t perfect,
But he’s sexy and he’ll be
One of sixteen kindle versions
That are earning more than most,
And although my plot is shaky,
Spurts of blood will hide the worst!

And so I sit at my computer,
Telling gory teenage tales,
About a girl, at first just ghostly,
Drinking blood and making sales…

(Alternative lyrics by Cody Young)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A virgin hero or a playboy?

The romance genre is filled with virgin heroines, especially in historical romance (my headstrong heroine in SCANDAL AT THE FARMHOUSE is a virgin, and I thoroughly enjoyed writing about her). But virgin heroes are much less common, and apparently, less popular. Why?

I would love to know the answer to that question. According to the experts at TV tropes ‘it is understood that the leading male must be sexually active. A guy who has never Done It, or even just does not Do It often, is simply Not Man Enough to save the day, solve the mystery or whatever. It doesn't matter whether sexual experience is in any way relevant to the skills needed in the plot, he just has to be Man Enough so he has to have Done It and preferably Do It Regularly. That's How It Is. Don't Argue.  Here’s the link to the whole article if you’d like to read it.

But wait – not all of us like guys who sleep around! And there has to be a first time for everyone. Some of the most successful romance novels have virgin heroes. Jamie in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander was a virgin, and so was Matthew in Anna Campbell’s Untouched. In category romance the ‘virgin hero’ theme has been done very sweetly by Anne Macallister and New Zealand’s own Susan Napier. Even in the edgy urban fantasies of paranormal writer Nalini Singh, the occasional virgin hero can be found – but I won’t reveal which book because that would be telling! There was even a hint that the irresistible Kyle in Terminator might have been a virgin - and Terminator was an action movie that found huge popularity with women. Perhaps we are not quite so faithful to the playboy hero and the Regency Rake as we used to be. Or perhaps we are more or less ‘wedded’ to our experienced heroes, but occasionally we want a brief flirtation with man who has yet to experience The Act. Are all virgin heroes beta heroes? Is ‘previous experience’ essential in an alpha male? 

I am intrigued by the whole debate. I have just finished a story with a playboy hero (a World War Two fighter pilot) and it was a lot of fun, but I adore virgin heroes. I wrote about one in American Smile, and would love to ‘do’ another, if you see what I mean, but the advice out there seems to be telling me to stick to the more ‘saleable’ heroes. If you are crazy about playboys, I want to know why, and if you like virgin heroes, I would love to know more. Please leave a comment  - it will help me to decide what to write next – virgin or playboy.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Scandal at the Farmhouse - first review!

Nervously, I opened an email from Sizzling Hot Books today and found the very first review for Scandal at the Farmhouse, my story about a Victorian virgin struggling to get out of marrying the man her parents have chosen for her. I was a little worried about how people would react to Ned, the hero, because he is a rough diamond - very sexy, but definitely not well-bred! I was thrilled to find that the reviewer described Ned and Clara's story as 'fast paced and great for an evening treat.'  I think I might have to print that out and get it framed!

Sizzling Hot Books is great for tracking down raunchier romantic reads. I liked the way the reviewer described my headstrong heroine: 'Clara has a gift for getting into or making trouble without a thought to others ....  I must admit it’s fun watching someone get into bigger scrapes than I do.' Say no more!
Full review at Sizzling Hot Books or you can read the first chapter of Scandal at the Farmhouse right  here.