My Top Ten Romances for Valentine’s Day

February 14th, 2014

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Let’s begin with Jane Austen. Especially Pride & Prejudice. Those of us who love Austen will never forget the first time we read it, and how we were captivated by the lively Elizabeth Bennet and arrogant Mr. Darcy. Oh, how foolish they both were! But it worked out in the end. :)  And forgive me, please, any Janeites who cringe at the thought of Pride and Prejudice being called a romance.

Another classic: Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. I’ve been less enamored of Ms. Bronte since I discovered her snarky comments about Jane Austen, but I can’t deny what a powerful hold Jane Eyre has always had on me. I read it the summer I was fourteen, and many times after that. Jane has spunk and spirit, and she’s not afraid of anything Mr. Rochester dishes out. Oh, until that one thing.

atonement-UKIf tragic love stories appeal to you, then Atonement should be on your list. Celia and Robbie’s love, rocked first by betrayal and then by war, is only part of the story. Ultimately, it’s more about redemption than love.

And talk about heartbreaking–I have loved Me Before You more than any book I’ve read in years. Here’s my review .

Among teen novels, Graceling is a compelling romance. Katsa resists love, believes she can’t find love without losing herself, and then falls headlong into it.

More Jane Austen. Persuasion is on my list, because of Captain Wentworth’s letter to Anne. It pierces my heart. :)

I love Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton novels, and my favorite of them all is The Viscount Who Loved Me. Kate, so fiercely protective of her sister, trying to prevent her from marrying Anthony Bridgerton, then falling for him herself. And who could ever forget The Mallet of Death?

The Rarest Blooms novels, by Madeline Hunter, are also favorites. Provocative in Pearls is my top pick, because of the letter Hawkeswell writes to Verity. I guess I have a thing about letters. He bares his soul to her, and what woman can resist that?

nonesuchLet’s talk a little Georgette Heyer, to round out the list: I love The Nonesuch, because once Sir Waldo falls for Ancilla Trent, he is so charmingly devoted to her. He handles everybody and everything so masterfully–except for Miss Trent. After showing a great deal of interest in him, she backs away, and he doesn’t understand why. Silly man, it’s so obvious.

And then there’s Sylvester. He and Phoebe fight a la Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, “willfully misunderstanding” each other. They each have their own vulnerabilities, which is what makes them so appealing. There are many other Heyer novels I adore, but I’ll stick with these two for now.

What are your favorites? Which romances make you swoon?

 

The Challenge of Writing a Pride and Prejudice Sequel

January 31st, 2014

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Writing a sequel to an iconic book like Pride and Prejudice was intimidating. All my insecurities, self-doubts, and uncertainties rose to the surface. The voice of the inner critic rang in my ears louder than usual when I first began writing The Pursuit of Mary Bennet. “You’re trying to be Jane Austen? Are you crazy?” “So you think you can write a story as beloved as Pride and Prejudice? Good luck with that!”

One fact that made the writing a little less daunting was that so many had gone before me. A simple Google search will tell you that there are Austen sequels to please every reader, as well as some that might offend. From the erotic to the undead, the completely re-imagined tales, and the more traditional stories, they’re there for the taking. Feel like something fanciful? Try Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. How about sexy? Check out one of Linda Berdoll’s sequels. More traditional? Pamela Aidan’s trilogy featuring Fitzwilliam Darcy might be just the thing. For a contemporary romance variation, check out Undressing Mr. Darcy, by Karen Doornebos.

When I began writing, one of the first decisions I had to make related to language. Did I want The Pursuit of Mary Bennet to sound just like Jane Austen? I quickly decided that I didn’t. For starters, I knew I could never replicate her style. Modern ears are accustomed to more dialogue and less narration. Then too, I thought if my primary concern was language, character and story would suffer. So I decided to go with a slightly more formal, British-English sounding narration, making sure to use words Austen would have used. There’s a wonderful resource on the internet called “The Jane Austen Thesaurus,” and I frequently checked it to find out if she used certain words. If the thesaurus said she hadn’t, I tried not to either. Jane Austen wrote in third person point-of-view, and so do most of the sequel writers. Usually when I’m starting a book, I experiment with different POVs, and I did this time as well. To be more Austenesque, I really wanted to use third person. But ultimately, I didn’t think Mary’s story as I wanted to tell it worked with that POV. I switched to first person and immediately heard Mary’s voice. It seemed more true and natural.

I wanted to get close to Mary, to her heart. In my mind, she was someone who’d been wounded. She was the middle daughter, born between two pairs of sisters, two elder and two younger. Jane and Elizabeth, alike in so many ways, were extremely close. And the same could be said about Kitty and Lydia, the two younger sisters. That left Mary rather isolated. In Pride and Prejudice, she’s portrayed, for the most part, as a foolish girl who speaks before she thinks and isn’t treated kindly by her family. Given this situation, she had great potential to be the subject of a sequel. What Mary was, and what she could become, provided an organic tension in the story

What would a Pride and Prejudice sequel be without a romance? Of course there had to be a love interest for Mary. Finding herself attracted to someone, unsure about his feelings as well as her own, presented an important opportunity for her to continue on her path to self-discovery. This tension between the old and new Mary is at the heart of my sequel. The story is as much about Mary’s pursuit of a new identity as it is a lover’s pursuit of her affections.

PursuitMaryBennet pbDo you have any Austen-inspired sequels in your TBR stack? I’ve heard the one pictured at left is quite good!

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet

October 22nd, 2013

PursuitMaryBennet pbIn case I haven’t mentioned it…I have a new book coming out next month. November 26th, to be exact.

THE PURSUIT OF MARY BENNET is my homage to Jane Austen, a sequel to the beloved PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, about Mary, the middle Bennet sister. I imagined a life for Mary beyond Austen’s rendering, one that seemed within the realm of possibility for her. Here’s the copy on the back cover of the book:

For most of her life, Mary, the serious and unpolished third daughter of the Bennet family, has been overshadowed by her sisters–beautiful and confident Jane and  Elizabeth, and flirtatious and lighthearted Lydia and Kitty. But with nearly all of her sisters married and gone from the household, awkward, unrefined Mary has blossomed into an attractive young woman with a quiet poise of her own.

When a very pregnant Lydia unexpectedly returns to the Bennet home and scandalously announces she’s left Wickham, Mary and Kitty are packed off to visit Jane and her husband, Charles Bingley, in Derbyshire. Yearning for the solitude of home, Mary is dismayed to discover Bingley’s handsome and eligible friend Henry Walsh everywhere she turns. Unschooled in the game of love, Mary finds Henry’s warm attentions confounding . Is his interest genuine or does she foolishly mistake friendliness for something more? With her heart and her future at risk, Mary must throw cautiion to the wind to find the truth–a journey of discovery that will teach her surprising lesons about herself and the desires of her heart.

The on sale date for THE PURSUIT OF MARY BENNET is Nov. 26, and you can pre-order it right now from many retailers.

There are Austen-inspired sequels to suit any taste. Do you have a favorite?

 

Book Love: Me Before You

September 6th, 2013

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Once in a decade, maybe, a book comes along that I fall in love with. A book that wrenches my heart and makes me gasp. Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes, is this decade’s book.

Here’s the story outline: A young girl, Louisa, after losing her job as worker in a café, begins a new job as a caregiver to a quadriplegic man named Will. She has no goals and doesn’t think much about the future. For reasons that become clear later, her primary concern in life is to do the “safe” thing. She has a boyfriend who’s obsessed with running and fitness.

Initially, she hates Will, her employer, and he barely tolerates her. He makes her feel stupid with his cruel remarks and taunts. Later she understands the reason why he acts like this, but at first she just wants to quit, she’s so miserable. She stays away from Will as much as she can by hanging out in the kitchen, running the vacuum, bringing in firewood and the like.

The first sign of change in their relationship is when his former girlfriend and employer visit to tell him they’re getting married. After they leave, Will goes ballistic and manages to break a bunch of picture frames, shattering the glass. Louisa makes a snarky comment, and he smiles. Barely. But it’s enough for a new beginning.

So we have a potent mix: a man who’d had a “big” life before his accident confined him to a wheelchair and caused all kinds of other health problems, and a girl who doesn’t really know who she is or what she wants from her life. One who is content to just bump along. Raise the stakes hugely with the revelation that Will is contemplating ending his life.

I don’t want to tell you how their relationship evolves, because you’ll want to discover it for yourself. I wouldn’t rob you of that pleasure for the world.

After finishing Me Before You, I had a startling revelation about myself as a reader. When it comes to a book that touches me deeply, I don’t really want to read an interview with the author, read professional reviews, or reviews from bloggers, or any from Amazon either. Because I think the book, or the story, has become an entity in and of itself. It’s a thing that’s out there and it’s separate from the author. It belongs to me now. It’s in my heart and soul and mind, and I don’t particularly want to share it, nor do I want to know anything about its creation that might affect how in love with that book I am.

Sound a little wacko? Yep. Sure does. But there it is.

I didn’t want to go into writer mode with this book, but I have. I’m reading it for the third time in a month to try to figure out how Moyes made me so emotionally attached to the characters and story and never want to let them go.

What’s your latest book obsession?

Paperback Release of Kissing Shakespeare

August 6th, 2013

I can hardly believe it’s been nearly a year since KISSING SHAKESPEARE was released! And on Aug. 6, I’m celebrating the release of the paperback. In honor of that occasion, I offer here, drum roll please, a deleted scene from the book. Last year, after KISSING SHAKESPEARE made its debut, YA librarian Joy Davis published a deleted scene on her blog, BOOK LAGNIAPPE. This is a different one.

The players here are Miranda, who at this point in the story is called Olivia, Stephen, and Will Shakespeare. The action takes place near the end of the book, and Shakespeare has gone off in search of Edmund Campion. Miranda and Stephen decide to go after him. The three of them end up in a cell, but figure out a way to escape. Here’s what happens after they think they’re safe:

Slowing at the church door, we stepped cautiously out into the sunlight. From a wattle and daub building not far up the road, we heard voices and laughter. “The soldiers,” Stephen said. “Quaffing ale, no doubt.”

“Then let’s go,” I said. My adrenaline rush had ended, anxiety taking its place. When I started to walk toward the horses, Stephen grabbed my arm.

“Soft,” he whispered. “They would be fools if they hadn’t left a man here.”

So we waited. Interminably. Unable to bear it any longer, I quirked my mouth at Stephen. He met my eyes. “You’ll ride with me. We’ll leave Peg behind.”

“But my things,” I protested.

“I have your things.”

“Stephen, I can clearly see my bundle at the back of Peg’s saddle.”

“Trust me.” His voice brooked no argument. “Let’s go.”

We raced over to the horses. Will climbed up, ready to ride out. Stephen mounted Bolingbroke, but just as he leaned down to haul me up, a soldier came around from behind the church. Wearing a rapier at his side, he unsheathed it quickly as he rushed toward us. Before I had time to react, he grabbed me around the waist and said to Stephen and Will, “Dismount and walk back to the church. I have no qualms about hurting the young lady.” My pulse racing, my senses heightened, I felt keenly aware of the precarious position I was in.

I heard Stephen’s sharp intake of breath, saw the defeated look on Will’s face, but they both climbed down and headed back to the church entrance. The soldier kept his weapon drawn and his other arm around me, dragging me along. “Keep your hands where I can see them,” he said to Stephen and Will. Not that it made any difference, since neither of them had a weapon.

So fast the whole scene later blurred in my memory, Copernicus shot out of nowhere, from wherever he’d been waiting for us, and hurled his huge body into the soldier’s, knocking him to the ground. Stephen and Will immediately reversed direction and ran for the horses. Cop whimpered, and I realized the rapier had wounded him. I stood rooted to the ground, scared out of my mind that Cop would die. I kicked the blade away while Copernicus held the soldier down, growling his menacing best.

“Olivia!” Stephen yelled. “We must go.”

Still, I hesitated, staring up at him and back at Cop, who was oozing blood from his chest. Then I felt Stephen’s strong arm lifting me, dropping me onto the saddle in front of him, and we rode away, the men spurring the horses into a gallop. I hadn’t cried once all day, despite Will’s disappearance, a head injury, and imprisonment. But now tears blinded me.

#

“We must stop somewhere for the night,” Stephen announced after we’d ridden a few hours.

“It’s not that late, is it?”

“Vespers rang a few hours ago, and the horses are tired and hungry. In truth, I’m tired and hungry.”

Will rode alongside us and concurred with Stephen’s judgment. Personally, still feeling upset about Copernicus, I had no appetite and only wanted to be back at Hoghton Tower in my safe, warm bed.

“Will, ride ahead and see if you can find a spot suitable for us,” Stephen said. Will nodded and rode off.

“This will give us an opportunity to talk to him about his plans,” Stephen said to me. “Perhaps we can do some persuading.”

“I don’t know what’s left to be said.” I had no interest in it anymore.

“We’ll think of something. Let’s get down and walk.”

“Whatever.”

“When you say ‘whatever,’ I know you are displeased.” Stephen jumped down and then lifted me down beside him. I started to walk, but he touched my shoulder. “Stop a moment, Olivia. I am sorry for what happened to Cop. I know it has made you sad.”

I felt sweaty, dirty, and hot, with a throbbing head and a stiff, sore body. I knew if I let myself cry, I wouldn’t be able to stop. Stephen and Will would have an out-of-control girl to deal with, and I didn’t want that to be their last impression of me. So I simply shrugged, not meeting Stephen’s eyes.

“It may only have been a superficial wound. Cop came at the man so hard and fast, he barely had time to react. Let alone—”

“It’s all right, Stephen. I’m sad, but I’ll get over it. It’s just that he was such a true friend to me. I’ve never had a pet…Cop was my first pet.”

Just then, Will called to us from several yards up the road. “I’ve found a place!”

#

If you’ve read KISSING SHAKESPEARE, you’ll know that Will doesn’t go in search of Edmund Campion. Neither Miranda, Stephen, nor Will spends any time in a cell. When my critique group read this version, they strongly protested. They couldn’t bear knowing that the big galumphing dog, Copernicus, dies. As it turned out, I changed the ending, leaving out the necessity of doing away with the beloved animal!

Let me know what you think about this “different” ending!

 

 

 

 

 

The Next Big Thing

April 18th, 2013

Today I’m participating in THE NEXT BIG THING. It’s a blog hop that began in Australia and went international. The purpose is to get the word out on middle grade and YA writers and their current or upcoming books. Each of us answers the same set of questions, and we “tag” two other authors who will do the same thing the following week. My friend and writing buddy, Denise Vega, tagged me, so here goes.

What is the working title of your next book?

My next book is for the adult market.  I think teens who like romance and have read Pride & Prejudice will like it! It’s called The Pursuit of Mary Bennet, coming in November 2013. I’m going to talk about Kissing Shakespeare today, though, since it’s definitely a YA!

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’d been wanting to write something that combined historical and contemporary. When I read about Shakespeare possibly having been a schoolmaster as a teen, I immediately started thinking about the possibilities. It was too intriguing to pass up!

What genre does your book come under?

I refer to it as a time travel fantasy, but of course it’s also historical and has a huge romantic element.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Wow! What a fun question.

Miranda: Shailene Woodley (she was actually suggested by someone on Twitter.  I agree she’s a good choice! She played George Clooney’s daughter in The Descendants.)

Stephen:  Kit Harington (Jon Snow in Game of Thrones)

Shakespeare: Nicholas Hoult (Jack the Giant Slayer)

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

High school senior Miranda travels back to sixteenth century England with her intriguing guide, Stephen, in order to help prevent Shakespeare from taking a very different path in life than the one he was meant for.

Who published your book?

Delacorte Press

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I began in 2007 and the book sold in 2010. It was very heavy on research: the religious, political, cultural history of the Elizabethan period, Shakespeare, Edmund Campion, the workings of time travel, and more. I love the research, but it definitely slows down the process.

What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

Gary Blackwood’s books, about a Yorkshire boy who comes to London to work for Shakespeare’s acting company (The Shakespeare Stealer and others); Carolyn Meyer’s books, especially Loving Will Shakespeare, and Eve Edwards’s The Lacey Chronicles. Also, Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl. These books are all set in the Tudor era. Kissing Shakespeare has the time travel element, whereas the others I mentioned are straight historicals.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The initial inspiration came from reading about Shakespeare’s life and what he might have done before he married, and prior to going to London. But it was my husband who encouraged me to stick with it when I was discouraged. Writing a book with Shakespeare as one of the main characters is intimidating, and I was afraid I couldn’t pull it off!

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Imagine yourself suddenly transported back to Shakespeare’s time. No modern plumbing, strange and unpalatable foods (like mutton!), odd customs (such as drinking ale at every meal), barely comprehensible English, no electricity or modern technology, and very weird clothing worn in layers to keep warm! These were all things Miranda had to contend with.

So that’s it for Kissing Shakespeare. Next week look for Chris Myers’s and Lindsay Eland’s questions and answers. Chris is the author of Date with the Dead and Lindsay wrote Scones and Sensibility. They’re both writing about new books.

 

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Kissing Shakespeare FAQs

March 9th, 2013

When Tania Navarro, age 19, wrote to me about KISSING SHAKESPEARE, she asked several questions. Afterward, I asked her if she would mind if I used them on this blog, since many other people have asked me the same questions. She was kind enough to give her consent. Tania is nineteen and lives in eastern Iowa. Below are her questions (in bold) followed by my answers:

I know that KISSING SHAKESPEARE is the first novel you’ve written, but are you planning to write a sequel? When Stephen and Miranda meet again?

I’d love to write a sequel to KISSING SHAKESPEARE, but it’s too soon for my publisher to commit to one. So many readers have written to me to ask if Miranda and Stephen will ever see each other again. Obviously, there is much more of their story to tell, and I’ve spent many hours thinking about it. A reviewer on Goodreads also said she wanted a prequel—the story of Stephen and his beloved Mary Swindon! I’ve never thought of that, but you never know!

Are you planning to write any other books?

I have a new book coming out from William Morrow/Harper Collins late in 2013. Cover and title to be revealed soon!

What inspired you to write KISSING SHAKESPEARE in the first place? Was it Hoghton Tower? Or something else? Or was it someone?

I’ve been to England many times, and setting does play a powerful inspirational role for me. I love British history and British writers. The idea for KISSING SHAKESPEARE struck me when I was reading a book called WILL IN THE WORLD, written by a Shakespeare scholar named Stephen Greenblatt. This was the first time I came across the idea that Shakespeare may have been a schoolmaster in northern England in his late teens, before he married Anne Hathaway. I thought that was a fascinating tidbit, and my mind immediately went to how I could build a story around it.

The “someone” would have to be Shakespeare!

Who are your favorite authors?

Shakespeare, of course. But Jane Austen is first in my heart! Among YA writers, I currently love Rachel Hartman (Seraphina), R.L. LaFevers (Grave Mercy), Laini Taylor (Days of Blood and Starlight), Kristin Cashore (Bitterblue). I’m a great mystery reader. I enjoyed GONE GIRL, by Gillian Flynn. I admire Jo Nesbo, a Norwegian mystery writer, and his novels about detective Harry Hole. Yep, I’m a fan of Stieg Larsson, too! And Peter Robinson, a British writer.

 Did you name any of the characters from your book after someone you know?

I didn’t name any of the characters after people I know. In fact, I usually avoid doing that, because it’s hard for me to separate a person’s name from their personality. When I’m writing, I need to focus on my character, not who their name reminds me of! In KISSING SHAKESPEARE, I knew I wanted the heroine to be named for a Shakespearean character. I chose Miranda, because it’s a name still popular today. Since her parents were Shakespearean actors, it’s logical that they would have named her after one of his heroines. Miranda is in The Tempest, in case you haven’t read that one yet. Her Elizabethan name, Olivia, is also that of a Shakespearean heroine, from Twelfth Night.

I believe there are some writers with dozens of books who, just for fun, name minor characters after relatives or friends. Maybe that’s something you think about doing after you’ve written so many books.

How long did it take you to write this novel?

I started doing research for KISSING SHAKESPEARE  in 2007 and my agent sold the book to Random House at the end of 2010. Without the historical aspect, it probably wouldn’t have taken as long.

Was it difficult to end your book?

It was difficult to finish KISSING SHAKESPEARE only because of its poignant ending. I wasn’t even thinking about a sequel at that point, BTW! The way it ended was the only logical outcome. Still, I sat with my box of tissues wiping away tears while I wrote!

Were you excited to bring Miranda’s adventure to a close and start something else?

While I was waiting for my editor’s revision comments for KISSING SHAKESPEARE, I wrote most of my upcoming book. After I completed the KS revision process, I finished the new book.

Thanks, Tania, for letting me share your questions! If anyone else would like to ask one, I’m happy to respond.

 

Favorite Teen Novels of 2012

January 31st, 2013

GraveMercy_final_hres-198x300Here’s my list of favorite young adult novels from 2012. VACLAV AND LENA and THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS were officially marketed to adults, but in my opinion, not especially humble, they would be great for teens. The links are to my own GoodReads reviews, except for TRAITOR’S SON AND SON, which are linked to professional reviews.

If I had to choose…I couldn’t single out just one as my ultimate favorite. I adore books that have romance, intrigue, and powerful revelations about self. On that basis, here are the three I loved best: SERAPHINA, BITTERBLUE, AND GRAVE MERCY.

Here they are, in no particular order:

Matched, by Ally Condie

Bitterblue, by Kristin Cashore

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Rock On, by Denise Vega

Vaclav and Lena, by Haley Tanner

Why We Broke Up, by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman

It’s Our Prom (So Deal With It), by Julie Anne Peters

The Fault In Our Stars, by John Green

Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers

Lies Beneath, by Anne Greenwood Brown

Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman

The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman

Traitor’s Son (The Raven Duet, Book 2), by Hilari Bell

Son, by Lois Lowry

Bitterblue Dial for blogger

What are  your favorites from 2012?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking Back at 2012

January 1st, 2013

 

For many years I made it a habit to list my writing accomplishments as each year drew to a close. I first got the idea from Cynthia Morris. She suggested it as a way of focusing on achievements rather than on setbacks. I haven’t done it lately, because my critique group has been doing “writing resolutions” each year. At our January meeting, we review last year’s resolutions, and how we measured up, and submit our resolutions for the coming year. And as a final, liberating gesture, we record our writing demons on flash paper and set them on fire. It’s become a real ritual for us. (If you take a look at the above link, you’ll see examples of what we resolved to do that year, as well as the ritual burning!)

However you choose to do it, I think it’s a useful exercise. List every accomplishment, no matter how minor it seems: attended a workshop, joined a critique group, wrote 1,000 words a day, week, month. Pretty soon it will evolve into: Won/placed in a contest, finished a first draft of a manuscript, received a critique from an agent or editor, queried five agents, and so on.

I looked back at one year in my journal (which I kept faithfully for several years when I was first writing) and here are some of the things I recorded at the end of one year: Read and critiqued six manuscripts; as Facilities Coordinator for RMC-SCBWI, helped find a new meeting venue; attended Pikes Peak Writers Conference; attended the week-long Highlights Foundation Writer’s Workshop; as a direct result of that, completed a final revision of Pandemic; submitted Pandemic to three editors.

If you didn’t have such a great year, you’ll be forced to ask yourself some uncomfortable questions: what prevented me from accomplishing more? What do I need to do to be more productive? How can I eke out more writing time? Because, let’s face it, writing is the thing. Without producing work, nothing else really matters if your goal is publication, traditional or indie.

I couldn’t have asked for a better year professionally. My debut novel, Kissing Shakespeare, released on August 14. My agent, Steven Chudney, sold a second book of mine to William Morrow/Harper Collins. It’s a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, about Mary Bennet, the socially awkward middle sister. No title yet! I jumped into book promotion, which, of course, is an ongoing project.

But still, looking back on 2012, I see many areas I need to work on. Dividing writing time with book promotion is one. I’m referring mainly to time spent on social media. Now active on Twitter (@PamMingle), Facebook, and  GoodReads, as well as blogging here and on TheWildWriters blog, I’m having a tough time finding a workable balance. Answering e-mails from readers is a huge priority. Reaching out to teachers, librarians, bloggers, book clubs, and appearing at library and other events, are all important ways to promote your book. But each of these activities must be weighed against the time away from writing.

As with anything else, it helps to adhere to a schedule. Morning is my chief writing time, so I try to fit everything else into afternoons or evenings. But the temptation to get on the internet is always present, and it sometimes seems as though a little devil is sitting on my shoulder telling me to tweet something, or check my Amazon reviews, or my e-mail. One of my resolutions this year will definitely be to rein in those impulses and tell that devil to take a hike.

Julie Anne Peters, over at TheWildWriters.com, has some great suggestions for creating specific, goal-oriented resolutions, and I strongly encourage you to see what she has to say!

If you have any secrets that have worked for you, either in goal setting, or keeping a sane balance between writing and…other activities, please share!

 

Engage the Senses in your Writing

November 25th, 2012

Over and over again, writers are told that in order to enrich their writing, they should strive to engage as many of the senses as possible in a descriptive passage.

The easiest, of course, is visual. We tend to stick with that one, because it’s the most obvious and most overwhelmingly present. Readers always want to know how something looks. But how much more vivid would our descriptions be if we used several of the senses, all at once?

While reading Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue, I came across a paragraph that absolutely embodied this:
“Giddon yanked the papers from her hands and threw them across the room. Jumping at the unexpectedness of this, Bitterblue saw him clearly as she hadn’t before, saw him towering over her, mouth hard, eyes flashing, and realized he was furious. Her vision came into focus and the room filled itself in around her. She heard the fire crackling, the silence of Bann and Helda, at the table, watching, tense, unhappy. The room smelled like wood fires. She pulled a blanket around herself. She was not alone.”

Take a closer look. Obviously the visual is present and dominant. But in the background, Bitterblue hears the fire crackling, notices the silence of the others. She smells the wood fire. Pulling the blanket around herself is tactile. The only sense missing is taste. But something else is going on here as well. We learn how she’s feeling.

Not only does the use of the senses capture our attention, it serves to heighten the tension and drama of what is actually happening in this scene. Something elemental passes between Giddon and Bitterblue. The power of his anger proves how much he cares about her, as does the “tense, unhappy silence” of the others. The sensory details are what drives these emotions home to the reader, what makes the passage  so visceral. The ending of the paragraph is powerful: “She was not alone.”

Sensory detail doesn’t have to be perfect in the early drafts of your work. You can fill it in as you revise. But don’t leave it out, and don’t be satisfied with the visual only. Do remember that the senses connect to your characters’ emotions and feelings. It’s their perception, not yours.

If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading Cashore’s work, start with Graceling. Fire is her second book, and is a companion to Graceling and Bitterblue, which is her third book. (You can read my review of Bitterblue on GoodReads.)

Do you have a favorite writer who is particularly good at drawing us in by meticulous and judicious use of sensory detail? Any books or passages you’d like to share?

 

 

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