Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Evocative places

Writers and readers know the power of location. Not just for selling houses, it sells books too! How often have you picked up a book from the shelf, or nosed around it on your device of choice, because of a place name in the title. This is especially noticeable with the summer season approaching - we hope - and holiday locations in mind. A lot of my ideas of what makes a romantic suspense, or a romantic mystery were formed by reading Mary Stewart. Hands up all those who vicariously fell in love with the Greek islands from reading her books. Of course, the strong silent hero had nothing to do with it.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a pre concert talk about Beethoven and his association with Vienna. More of that in another post, later. I've never thought of Vienna as a location for a book, but of course now I am, and Mary Stewart used it in Airs Above the Ground. There are threads of a treasure hunt involving a lost manuscript floating about in the brain, but it is really going to have to wait its turn.

All this made me think of the way a place can become a shorthand for a mood. I had fun with a short list. In all of them, romance is a given.

Paris - sophistication, food, a lot of emphasis on scent and luxury

Vienna - much cooler, maybe an older couple or second time around romance. Music.

London - famous landmarks, speed, hustle, weather!

Greece - heat, beaches, laid back lifestyle

The French Riviera - one of my specialities. I always get a first image of a 1950 type movie, with sports car speeding along the Corniche. Which just about says it all.

New York. This is darker, noisy, more edgy

Anywhere in Italy - food again. Architecture, art, Icecream

And of course, Wales. I'm planning a lot of my romantic suspense to be set here, capitalising on the scenery and the Celtic heritage. Myths and mists.

I am sure you'd have a few to add.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

The most deadly sin?

The concept of deadly sins - sloth, greed, envy, and the rest, have provided quite a bit of material for writers, film makers and artists as a collection - the full seven. Often in creepy thrillers.They are also the motor power of a great deal of work individually, as themes or character traits, even in romance writing. The villain can quite generously possess all of them, but even a hero or heroine can exhibit elements, with maybe one in particular  that becomes an issue of the story, where its significance has consequences - maybe that one moment when laziness led a protagonist to fail in something vital - and/or the journey to overcome what is recognised as a potentially fatal flaw.

All writers are human, or we claim to be,  so we try and write characters who are human or have a semblance of human emotions, or how will a reader identify with them? I doubt if there is a human who has not experienced all the sins at some stage in their lives, even if it is only envying their sister for her curly hair when theirs is is poker straight, and vice versa. I'm not sure if there is a sin that covers that contrary human thing of of perversely wanting that trait that you don't possess, but a lot of people are not giving up on their hair straighteners any time soon. Isn't technology wonderful?

But the thing that struck me from my reading this week, and inspired this post, was how often what might be called the sin of pride is the king pin of a lot of romance writing, and crime too. Not in an overt way, but as the underlying force for keeping secrets, saving face, not wanting to be patronised, the object of pity, to look to be  lacking in some way. How often has the heroine in the romantic suspense insisted that she can stand on her own two feet, the hero retreated from an instance when he judged himself to have failed in some way, with consequences that stretch across the book?

Secrets are the life blood of romantic suspense, and pride and self worth are a great motive for having them and keeping them.  Having had the thought, I'm going to be watching my own work, looking for times when my characters are letting a variation of pride motivate them. I suspect it might be more often that I expect.

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

The lives of supporting characters

I was going to call this killing the relatives, but thought it might be severely misconstrued. The post last week put me in mind of the 'problem' of your hero/heroine's immediate family. Like - do they have one and how much should they feature in the book? Should they feature in the book? And if not, why not? 

Some books are built around the idea of family - and close loving relationships, or the hostility that can only be bred amongst people who know each other very well and know about all the buttons to press. And of course home is supposed to be the place where they have to take you in. (Although they might not necessarily welcome you.) These tend not to be romantic suspense, though, or not the way I write it. My protagonists tend to be loners - which throws them nicely onto their own devices or the arms of the other protagonist. Horrible to say and experience in the real world, but bereavement is sometimes a necessity - orphan, widow, sole survivor - or, not quite bereavement - being an only child. I can write from 'what you know' on that one. Relatives and friends of all sorts are a severe handicap when you need to put your protagonists in a position where they have nowhere to turn and no one to help.

Sadly, this means disposing of the family, particularly parents, because whoever else you have in your life and whatever your relationship with them, everybody began life with two of them, even if that is only the biological truth. I was lucky enough to have a close and supportive relationship with mine, and I do know how lucky that makes me. I knew that I could (and did) always turn to them when all else failed. Which is probably why I get one of those pulling-you-out of- the-book moments when I read something when the heroine - and it usually is the heroine - doesn't pick up the phone and call home.

This is why, if you want to isolate your protagonists, the parents (and family) have to go. Hence the high incidence of plane and car crashes that I noted in last week's post, which is where this all began. You can go for various modes of distance, estrangement (which is a story in itself) or physical separation, like sending them somewhere suitably far away - and I have done that. But if you really want to remove them from the scene you have to kill them. Natural causes is an option, but you do have to do it twice for parents, to what are, these days, still relatively young people. Which is how we get back to the car and plane crashes.

I try to be more unusual with my treatment of relatives - so far I have a drive-by shooting, a train wreck  and am lining up a house fire. And these are the good guys! I do try not to be too horrible, but it is not easy to be fatal and inventive.

But you should see what I do to the bad guys ...

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Acting like normal people

Wrestling with my tax return this week, the thought occurred to me, along with a lot of swear words, which we will not go into here - when did you last read a book where someone was doing the same?  I'm sure there are references to doing accounts, making up the books, doing paperwork and so on, but a down and dirty, throwing things at the wall encounter with the delightful wad of incomprehensible forms? Maybe I'll use that sometime. Romantic novelists joke about whether you could ever have a hero who was a tax inspector. Now that has started a hare in my brain. The brain of a novelist ...

The tax return thing got me assembling a mental list of other stuff you rarely see - the ordinary stuff of living:

Doing the ironing
Sorting the recycling
Paying the window cleaner - and what about a hero who is a window cleaner?
Visiting the optician and getting new glasses fitted. That's got me on to a hero/heroine who wear glasses.
Changing library books ...

I bet you can add more.

On the other hand, based on a very unscientific skim through my own reading, heroes and heroines spend a lot of time hanging out in coffee shops, either working or meeting cute baristas, or both. Also there is generally a lot of drinking coffee/wine/gin, baking wonderful cakes, or having disasters while attempting it, walking on the beach, interacting with a cute dog/cat, having minor traffic accidents to provide the meet cute (and yes, the traffic warden is another 'not my hero' area). There's a lot of cute stuff in here. Also characters in books often have careers in the media, or publishing. They seem to suffer from an higher than average tendency to sprained ankles (see also meet cute, above). I saw a tweet last week too that mentioned that lots of characters seem to suffer from amnesia. And there is an exceptionally high instance of close relative suffering death by air or car crash. Which is not good if you happen to be a close relative.

And that's given me an idea for another post, so I'll do that one next week.

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Serial Offender

Readers like books series, which means that publishers like them too. There are of course different types - some feature the same characters in different adventures - a lot of police procedurals follow that pattern. Some have a theme that runs though a set of stories - a family, an organisation, a quest. Sometimes individual books are episodes in an overarching and continuing story, a bit like a TV soap.

The question I'm toying with at the moment is 'How do you decide that this book is going to be part of a series?' As a romance writer who insists on a HEA ending - my hero and heroine have to complete their story and make a commitment to each other - I'm old fashioned, so that tends to be marriage - and so my stories tend to be stand-alones. The first and third options are not really going to be my thing. To tell the truth, as a reader I tend to avoid door number three as well. I don't go for cliff hangers. Which leaves the middle choice. Now that I can do, and will be, when I finally get the academic stuff put to bed, with the Riviera Rogues, which are kind of adventure/mystery romance.

That one began because I really enjoyed spending time with Cassie and Jake, was reluctant to let them go, and the potential of the detective agency which Jake takes over gave me some scope for further stories, each with a new central couple, but with the agency as a background. It gives me a chance for a new love story and to let characters wander through each others stories. I have Nadine and Ryan and Lisa and Mick lined up, with Michelle waiting in the wings for her story.  After that, who knows?

I have an idea that has gelled for a much more romantic series around members of a book group who are starting their own businesses, and lots of ideas for romantic suspense. That plan has an overarching background of a private security agency and sets of books in threes with groups of heroes who work together. I have one that is kind of a stand alone within the series, which I am now wondering might form a line around another theme, probably code breakers of some sort.

All this is very fine. When is someone going to invent the 48 hour day?

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

What's your problem?

Over the holiday I've been doing some writing - pause here for round of applause. This involved going back to the Christmas novel, or novella, not sure which, that has been on the back burner for a while. Which meant I had to re-acquaint myself with the characters. And their problems.

I was motoring along, unfolding some of the plot, which was fine, when I came to a stop. Hang on a minute - remember this is a romance! Now that he's stopped thinking she is one of the bad guys and she's stopped thinking he is remote and stand offish, isn't it about time hero and heroine spent some quality time together?

The only one who was going to give them that quality time was me - and I had the backdrop of the French Riviera to do it in, so there was no excuse for getting on with it. But I needed to get back under the skin of the characters to make it happen.

This meant I spent a happy morning excavating family trees, reacquainting myself with the things in their backgrounds that have made them who they are and how that will bring them together. In other words figuring out their problems. And how to resolve them. Wheels within wheels, because they still have to sort out the crime caper I have dumped them into as well.

It's complicated stuff, this writing lark. 

Monday, 6 January 2020

Promises, promises

As regular readers know. I don't really do New Year resolutions. 2020 has also started rather inauspiciously, as I have been stuck down by a rather nasty lurgy, which has taken a while to shake off. I'm still not functioning on all cylinders, but getting there. As a consequence I have done a lot of reading and sleeping, but I have done some work too, and the Christmas Riviera Rouges has gained some pages. I'm not yet sure if it will be Rogue 2.5 or Rogue 3 - depends how long it ends up. It was going to be a novella, but now I'm not so sure ...

Now that the holidays are over, I am also back doing corrections and final proofing for the PhD, which will be getting priority for the next few weeks, so the writing will be on the back burner again.

So - no resolutions, but a few promises to myself - that once the academic stuff is finally done, there will be writing - lots of it, I hope. Also some location visiting. And won't that be fun.