Christmas at my house

I’ve spent all week finishing the day job for the year and wondering what to write in this post. I’ve spent all day running errands, finishing shopping, and wondering what to write in this post. I’ve finally written a post that is WAY too depressing for the holiday. I’ve put it in the trash.

Every year, I think, “This is the year I get in the holiday spirit. We’re going to have a tree and a party. I’m going to wrap presents, make candy, and play Christmas music. I’m going to decorate outside, and have lights …”

Instead, this is what my poor husband, Mr. Perfect, has to deal with at Christmas.

  1. MP: “Do we have a wreath?”
    Me: “Ummm. Yes? Somewhere in the basement, maybe?” Digs around under boxes and finds one. “Here. Just unsquish it a little. It’ll be fine.”
  1. MP: “Do we have Christmas cards ? We need to send some.”
    Me: “I think I bought some on sale last year. Didn’t I give them to you? Do you need stamps?”
  1. MP: “What about a tree? Nevermind, I’ll get the little tea-light tree out from last year.”
  2. Me: “What’s this CD on your desk?”
    MP: “Merry Christmas.”
    Me: “Is this a new coffee cup in the dishwasher?”
    MP: “Well, I was trying to hide it to keep you from finding it like you did the CD. Merry Christmas.”
  1. Me: “I  have your Christmas present in the trunk. Will you help me carry it upstairs?”
  2. MP: “Do you want to watch the Military Channel or the Hallmark Channel?”
    Me: “Military Channel, please.”
  1. MP: “What are we getting …”
    Me: “Don’t worry. I have a list. Everything’s on the way from Amazon already wrapped and shipped to Mom’s. We’re good.”
  1. MP: “I have to work on Christmas. Will you be okay by yourself?”
    Me: “Don’t worry. I’ve got a frozen pizza and a few chapters to write.”

I have the most understanding, Christmas loving, husband in the world (and a new Christmas wreath). He is my best present every year. Sometimes, when the holiday gets the best of me, or when writing gets the best of me, it’s great to remember that.

Whatever you do on this holiday, I hope you spend time with people who love you just the way you are. And I hope you have time to read a good book.

Mia Kay - thumbnailMerry Christmas!


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KISSing Your Conflict

I have been trying all day to write this blog post. Seriously. All day. And that sort of sums up the last month of writing almost everything.

On my last blog, we talked about simplifying your secondary characters so the hero and heroine can take center stage. Now … what do we do with them? We put them in conflict. Internal and external.

In suspense, external conflict is usually danger: running for their lives, protecting each other, solving a mystery, chasing the villain. Whatever it is, the external conflict pushes them together when then don’t want to be, which is the internal conflict.

So, the internal conflict is why the hero and/or heroine don’t want to be together. They don’t think they need a protector, they think the other is in danger, they have a history together. He wants her, but she’s pushing him away. Or vice versa.

It’s as simple, and as difficult, as that. Because believable conflict is hard to do.

Simple rules for KISSing your conflict:

  1. Make the conflict arise from your characters’ jobs, families, or friends – something they cannot control or change.
  2. However, that conflict HAS to affect the main characters’ relationship with each other.
  3. Up that conflict by forcing the hero and heroine together, even if it’s just making them run into each other socially.
  4. Give them a reason to like and respect each other in spite of themselves.
  5. Give them a reason to disagree.

I’ll give you an example from a book I can’t wait to read: Callie Hutton’s The Earl Returns. It’s a Regency romance where the hero jilted a woman at the altar to marry someone else. He returns to London in the middle of the social season, now a widower, and is promptly attracted to … his jilted fiancée’s sister.

Why keep it simple? Because keeping the conflict straightforward lets your characters’ emotions shine through.

Let’s try something different in the comments. Let’s brainstorm the conflicts between new characters.

Our hero is a burn unit doctor and our heroine is an arson investigator. Go!

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KISS your characters

I saw my first movie in 1979: The Black Hole. Due to a family thing (which is a very long story), we had to drive an hour one way and catch a ferry to make the show time. I was hooked from that night in a dark theater with my brother and my cousins.

The Black Hole (1979, Walt Disney)

The Black Hole (1979, Walt Disney)

I am a movie addict. There’s nothing better than the experience, and there’s no such thing as a bad movie.  There is always something redeemable.  I’m not a big fan of tear-jerkers (at least in public), and I draw the line at horror. My imagination about monsters in the closet is good enough without visual proof, thank you very much.

Strictly Ballroom, M & A Australian Film Finance Corporation (AFFC) Beyond Films

Strictly Ballroom, M & A
Australian Film Finance Corporation (AFFC)
Beyond Films

My favorites (other than rom-coms) are big ensemble movies. Dancing (Strictly Ballroom, anyone?), sports (hands up for Bull Durham), music (sing along with Pitch Perfect). I love watching the characters interact where they aren’t in a vacuum.

As you can guess, when I began writing, I wrote with a cast of characters in my head. I still do. It plays out like a movie. And, in the first drafts, those ensemble players all show up on the pages.  My critique partners constantly have to rein me in. I tease – there’s at least one Bollywood dance number and one “campfire/dinner table” scene. And they always get edited out.

Because I’ve learned that with any plot, characters get better with KISSing.

Keep it Simple, Silly.

Of course secondary characters are necessary. There are lists of the supporting players your protagonists needs: sidekick, mentor, skeptic, voice of reason … But here are few points to consider when creating them:

  1. Adding a bunch of people to a scene muddies what the hero is hearing, seeing, or learning about the heroine. She should be his main focus. Isn’t that the point of the story, at least in romance? That she’s his primary concern?
  2. The heroine can talk to her best friend, but any BIG revelations should be made to the hero. They are forming a partnership, and she needs to build that connection. Besides, if she confesses to her best friend, she has to do it later to the hero anyway. Save the words.
  3. And while we’re on the topic – as much as possible, save the words for the hero and heroine’s story. The first time I had to edit a scene to eliminate the crowd, I realized how much better it revealed the relationship between my main characters.

These are three really quick reasons, and I’m sure there are loads more. The whole point is to keep the hero and heroine as the focus of your story.  After all, when we tell friends about books (or movies, for that matter) we start with “So this girl … And then this guy …”

KISS your characters, and watch your story come to life.

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So, I’m writing a historical romance

I almost hate to say that out loud. Not because I’m embarrassed, but because many of my favorite authors write in the genre and I feel rather unworthy.

But since my latest romantic suspense is out on submission, I wanted to start something new and stretch my writing muscles.  Cue one of my closest friends who basically dared me to write a “long dress book.” Mostly because they’re her favorites, and partly because she says my heroes are all historical heroes in modern clothes anyway.

To break out of my comfort zone even further, I’ve plotted this using beat sheets and turning points. Me – the eternal pantser and consummate content editor/re-editor, who’s known to over-write everything. I’ve actually spent a lot of time considering this plot and these characters before I’ve ever written a word.

I’m tired already, and I’m only on Chapter 3. But here are a few things that I’ve noticed so far about switching genres:

  1. Tension, not suspense.

No one is running for their life in this book. There’s no threat of a villain in the shadows with a gun, no dead bodies, no mortal fear. This time the villains are armed with words and manipulation. It’s tense. And, because there isn’t an overt threat, there are many more potential antagonists to manage.

Garden graphic2. Research is fun, but such a rabbit hole.

I love finding out those great details about Regency food, clothes, manners, etc. However, it’s easy to fall into the “ooh, what’s that?” trap. And, honestly, sometimes those great details get in the way of actually telling the story.

3. A manageable number of people

One word: servants. And families, and villagers, and  … See? I’ve already gone way past one word. Because most of them are integral to the story (see tension, above).  How on earth do I keep this believable but keep my hero and heroine center stage? It’s a drafting puzzle, and it’s an exercise in keeping the pantsing side of my brain occupied by something new and shiny. (Hello, Spotify.)

I’m going to keep up with my daring experiment and see if I can tell this sort of story – if I can do my characters and the plot justice. I really want to expand my storytelling skills, and my plot bunny – all about English country houses and gardens, second chances, and making your own family – is perfect for this genre.

Sometimes you simply need to try something new.

Stay tuned.

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Holding out for a hero

I read a blog post this morning from Virginia Heath entitled “Write What You Know, they said …” In it, she’s talking about borrowing some of her daughter’s traits, and events from history, for her latest novel. And it got me to thinking about heroes, and … writing what you know.

We’ve all seen it. When people learn you write romance novels, they automatically grin and waggle their eyebrows and ask that question. “Have you done everything in your books?”

Last week, we had a great answer suggested by Beverly Jenkins. “Hell, yes.” Which is way better than saying, “I found your nose in my business.”

But there’s also the suggestive question that really isn’t a question. “Your husband must be a very happy guy.”

And he is, but that’s because he’s generally a happy guy.  Not because I base my romances on us. Honestly, he’d be embarrassed if I did.

But that begs another question … where do I find my heroes?

HerosFor looks? You can’t beat Pinterest. I mean, really. The guys on the right are my current romance models (my apologies, guys). And, seeing them all grouped like that, do I need to explain why I love daydreaming in my spare time?

However, heroes are so much more than good looks. The best heroes are honorable, caring guys who make sacrifices.

Last week in San Diego, I found a few:

  1. One man went to an awards ceremony with his wife and choked up with pride when she won.
  2. Another nominee’s husband went around the table and introduced himself to everyone and participated – rather than checking his watch and feeling out of place. The guy next to him spent the evening making his wife the star of his evening.
  3. One guy took the middle seat in an airplane and didn’t complain and didn’t hog the armrests. He spent a long, hot flight taking care of the distracted, sometimes sleeping. woman next to him, including making sure I didn’t miss out on snacks.
  4. And then there was my husband – who spent the week texting me (although he hates doing it) and taking care of his ill mother, yet somehow still found time to fuss over an issue with my car.

So, continuing Virginia Heath’s theme of “write what you know,” I’d encourage anyone to look around and find the everyday, unsung heroes and heroines and then make them larger than life.

And for those people who ask “have you done everything?” – I write suspense. I usually kill at least one character in every manuscript.

Are you sure you want to ask that question?

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