The Voices in my Head

My background includes theater, and during my studies in that area, I learned that  there are no new plots.  The human condition has a large but finite combination of interactions, and writers have been stealing from each other since the Greeks invented drama.

What makes a book, play or movie stand out isn’t the pacing or how realistic a plot is.  (Seriously, even some of Shakespeare’s plots have more holes than a colander.)  It’s the characters who inhabit them.  (Again, Shakespeare is a prime example.  Even his cameo characters have goal, motivation and conflict, which is why his plays have been produced and loved for the last 400 years.)

I have no clue what the Bard’s process was, but in my case finding a character is more a matter of sifting through people who show up and want to be my imaginary friends.

I think I’ve said that I get a lot of my ideas for characters from reading history.  Bethany came from reading about the ordeals several heiresses suffered through in 17th century England.  I had to make her older, as they were in their early teens when they were married off to fortune hunters, but aging her made it possible to give her the gumption to stand up to her hero, Richard.

Sometimes a character literally pops into my head.  A friend and I were talking about names and she jokingly said, “You’ll never find a romance heroine named Theodosia.”  Next thing I knew, I had a character named Theodosia just waiting for me to write down her background.  I knew what she looked like, who her family members were and who her hero was, all from that one comment.

Another source of engaging characters is my family history.  (Let me make very clear, I don’t do genealogy even as a hobby.  My sister and two aunts do, so I know I don’t have the patience to locate and read through document after document searching for a single name.  I merely admire and praise the fruits of their labor.)  One of my great-great grandmothers managed to obtain a divorce during the 1800s, a nearly impossible feat.  And as if that didn’t scandalize her town enough, she then remarried while her former husband was still alive!  Another great-great grandmother eloped with a civil engineer and was disowned by her wealthy Victorian family.  Even after her husband died, they refused to acknowledge her.  Her sons, my ancestor and his brothers, ended up working in a rich man’s stables.  After playing ‘what if’ with these stories, I’ve created some wonderful characters I hope to use in future books.

The cast of my March 2011 release came from reading biographies of Americans during the Gilded Age.  American heiresses married into the British aristocracy on several occasions over the last quarter of the 19th century.  Again, I played ‘what if’ and came up with a story my editor described in his acceptance email as ‘exceedingly charming’.  Diantha has lived a restricted life even for the Victorian era, while Kieran, her worldly spouse, prefers women with a certain amount of polish.  Their conventional background presented a challenge when bringing in twists to the story, but one of my favorite ideas comes early in the book.  Instead of the sophisticated groom suffering from a hangover after a night of prenuptial carousing, I gave the splitting headache and dry mouth to a very confused bride.

You can read more about her on my newest page, cleverly entitled ‘Excerpts’.


Why Demons are Our Friends

Sorry, not an entry about paranormal romance!  I’d have to leave that one to my daughter.

This is about our personal demons, the things external or internal that make us break out in a cold sweat.  Not stuff like being afraid of bugs, which I consider PERFECTLY NORMAL even though my Dear Hubby laughs at me every time I make him kill a spider.  I’m talking about the fears that make us break out in a cold sweat and want to dive into the nearest dark corner to hide every time we think of them.

Deadlines are a good example for me.  Currently I am revising my next book.  I am on schedule. The writing may not go perfectly smoothly every day, but it progresses.  I enjoy the chance to make my book better.  All is well, right?  Right??

Except for the sinister little voice in my head whispering “deadline…it’s coming up…gonna be here before you know it….” and it’s making me a bit paranoid.  I’m not quite waking up in a cold sweat every night, but I tell myself before going to sleep that I better not waste any time the next day, cause I gotta turn in my work soon.  I hate that teeny weeny voice, but it’s doing me a service.  Thanks to its nagging, I’m not letting myself play in the sunshine or goof off (much) because once I turn in the revisions it will finally shut up.  At least till the next deadline.

Once the Deadline Demon is placated, others will come forward to replace him.  Some, like stage fright, I’ve become inured to over the years.  Others may always have a hold on me.  For example, it is still difficult for me to put my words out there for others to critique, even people who I know are helpful and supportive and on my side.  I’m still terrified of sounding stupid.

But fears must be conquered if any of us are to move forward.  Our personal demons befriend us when they tell us where we can be better.  Do the work to meet the deadline.  Get up in front of the crowd and speak.  Send the query letter.  Even (shudder) kill the bug.  You may fail.  You may not.  You may freak out completely.  Do it again.  No heroine ever got what she wanted by giving up.

Vote Baby Vote

This is as close to a political rant as you’ll ever hear from me.  I have many opinions about the state of affairs in my country, most of them very strong ones.  They do not belong in this blog because I am a romance writer, not a political commentator.  But today is a primary election day where I live.

Because I am a big giant history nerd, I have no qualms about reminding everyone who reads this that the right to vote, to determine our own governance, has been a core value of Americans since before the Constitution was signed or the Declaration of Independence written.  Men died for this right in 1774 at Concord and Lexington, even though they were in the minority.  It is speculated that no more than one third of the population of the thirteen colonies supported the Revolution.  The rest either opposed it or just didn’t care.

More Americans died at Antietam and Gettysburg when our nation had to wrestle with the fact that some state governments denied this same self-determination to people who were born and worked their entire lives here, and were buried in American soil, but whose skin was dark instead of light.

Women did not have to fight and die for the right to vote in the United States, but it took seventy years of steady campaigning and many losses before the Nineteenth Amendment was passed in 1920.  Not one woman who led the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York lived to see her dream achieved, but they never gave up.  Thanks to them, I am part of the third generation of women in my family who have the right to participate in my own government.

A lot of people in this world do not have access to free elections, or have their lives threatened for voting as they wish.  It still happens here.  As a child I watched Americans suffer beatings and dog attacks on the nightly news because they protested laws that prevented people from using the vote to make themselves heard.  Many of them were arrested.  Civil rights workers and leaders in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee have been lynched, bombed and assassinated in my lifetime.  One of the cornerstones of the movement was empowering African-Americans by helping them register to vote.

The worst is that they did not suffer at the hands of foreign powers, but that other Americans resorted to such violence to stop them.  The ballot is a better way! If you want a measure passed, or blocked, VOTE.   Don’t be the people who don’t care.  Vote if you’re red!  Vote if you’re blue!  But please honor all the Americans who sacrificed their lives and dreams so that you can go to the fire station or the church hall or school and fill out a ballot.


A New Venture!

After weeks of planning, I am finally able to announce an exciting new project!  I have the privilege of joining five other romance writers in a new group blog, Authors by Moonlight.  Along with Sherry James, Fleeta Cunningham, Tiffany Green, Francesca Hawley and Laura Landon, I will contribute posts periodically.

Right now the site is still under construction, but feel free to take a peek!  Our fabulous  Launch Party starts next Monday, the 10th of May!  Every day from Monday to Saturday, one of us will post and feature a book giveaway!  Our genres include contemporary, erotic and historical romance, so I hope everyone will stop by and meet us.

Besides weekly posts from the six of us, Authors by Moonlight has a wonderful line up of guest bloggers lined up through the year!  Visit us often to find out who’s going to appear next.