Thursday, 29 August 2013

Launch of Wolf Bride

Elizabeth Moss, an enigmatic friend of mine has a new book released today, and I say that because she's an author many think they know, but she is so prolific she wears me out keeping up with her work. She also manages to surprise her readers too, I think.

Wolf Bride, described as 'a scandal-ridden, debauched, decadent and passionate story' A Tudor Court romance set during the last fateful months of Anne Boleyn's reign and bursting with seduction, passion, jealousy and love. If that doesn't make you rush out and buy it I don't know what will. 

Congratulations Elizabeth and the very best of success with this novel.  

Book Blurb

England, 1536 

Bound to him against her will... 

Lord Wolf, hardened soldier and expert lover, has come to King Henry VIII's court to claim his new bride: a girl who has intrigued him since he first saw her riding across the Yorkshire moors. 

Eloise Tyrell, now lady-in-waiting to Queen Anne Boleyn, has other ideas. She has no desire to submit to a man she barely knows and who - though she is loath to admit it - frightens her not a little. 

Then comes that first kiss...

It awakens in both a fierce desire that bares them to the soul. But as the court erupts into scandal around the ill-fated Queen, Eloise sees first-hand what happens when powerful men tire of their wives. 

Dare she surrender her body and her heart?

Published by Hodder and Stoughton as an e-book. The paperback will be released in November 2013

Friday, 23 August 2013

Love Cozies?

I love a good mystery, but not being a fan of psychological thrillers which keep me awake at night, I gravitate toward cozies for my light reading. Lately I have begun writing them too, and as an inveterate ‘pantser’, cozies fit into my obsession with sorting where every detail, clue, red herring and revelation is going to go before I draft the first chapter.

For those who haven’t tapped into this genre yet, the most well-known amateur sleuth is Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. A quiet-speaking little old lady who asks questions, sometimes irritating ones, whose persistence and ability to put seemingly unrelated observations together solves a crime.

Cozies begin with a killing, usually ‘offstage’ with which the sleuth has some sort of tenuous connection. Maybe the crime was committed in a friend’s house when the sleuth was staying, or her cousin is being accused of the murder and the sleuth applies her mental abilities to prove otherwise.

The plot is key, of course, and all those writing articles are correct when they tell you to start at the solution and work backwards. Once you have a villain and a reason, it’s easier to weave the why, how and when, than begin with a killing and concoct a thread to fit afterwards.

The sleuth is usually female, and also intelligent with a fondness for puzzles and - often to the disparagement of those around them -  digs out clues, asks questions. There is also distinct lack of profanity and sexual content in cozies. I have included a little romance in both of mine, but historical romance is different to contemporary romance. 

In a contemporary mystery, the female sleuth may jump into bed with the hero simply because of chemical attraction, or maybe she feels he knows more than he is saying and this is a way to get him to talk. [Well, why not, we are all grownups aren’t we?] In a historical, the attraction is mainly mental, and either ends in a wistful parting or a wedding - no middle roads.

Cozies tend to take place in confined settings, a country house, a ship, or a snowbound hilltop church, thereby drawing upon a small cast of characters and suspects. In historicals, this is ideal, as having a man clamber over ten foot snowdrifts to summon the authorities is more atmospheric than using a mobile phone.  

Placing a group in a setting outside their normal lives also means certain facts about them can be hidden more effectively - only to be revealed as part of the plot at the end.. The abiding quality of a cozy, is that by the end of the story, the criminal is revealed, they are led away and order is restored to the community.

Red herrings are great fun, but too many can be confusing. That the worried looking man who drops things may simply do so because he’s afraid of losing his job, not because he’s a killer searching for a hiding place for the murder weapon. All the clues must be picked up by the end - mystery buffs don’t like to be left hanging.

Cozies are great for flawed characters - my first cozy included a colourful grand dame with a sharp tongue but shrewd mind who was admired by everyone. My critique partners loved her, unequivocally, so I made her the villain and it worked - everyone was surprised, shocked and delighted. Well I say everyone but this novel has only been read by a dozen people, so maybe I exaggerate - and it isn’t published - dare I say yet!

So maybe inveterate mystery lovers wouldn’t agree with my making them love my character, only to turn on her at the end.

Cozy Basics

The Sleuth is an amateur with whom the reader can identify - someone whose faults are minor but

add to her character - like impatience, forthrightness etc. No drunks or drug addicts - that’s for burnt out detectives in police procedurals! A fault can also be a factor in solving the case - like a photographic memory. She is connected with the crime but not fatally attached to it - thus a series of stories could be centred around her. 

Readers like series as they know what to expect, and become attached to the detective’s character, even her stumbles and wrong conclusions hoping to beat her to the punch to see if they can work out who the villain was first.

The Victim is someone who is often not seen and unlikely to be missed, either an unpleasant character themselves - but everyone deserves justice - or maybe a rich aunt the reader never meets, who had to die for the plot to get started.

The Antagonist is usually motivated by greed, jealously, or revenge - no serial or thrill killers. They may also commit a second crime during the story, but this too takes place in the background, not on the page.

The Suspects and those who assist the sleuth can be stereotypes, the social climber, the bigot, the sleezeball, the snob, the gambler etc. They are not necessarily likeable, but nor are they evil.

The Crime - usually a murder, either occurs before the story starts or soon after it begins. There may be a threat to the sleuth to increase the tension, and a fear that a second crime might occur, and sometimes it does, possibly as the villain tries to hide the first killing.

Amateur sleuths don’t have access to the same information as a policeman, but maybe they have a policeman friend who feeds them snippets. Bystanders can discover things the police cannot, so maybe there is a collaboration between the two and they share information.

Cozies are not action-packed, roller coasters of action that hit the ground running and don't stop until the end. They are more a portrait of human nature, frailty and personal prejudice, the meat of the story conveyed in dialogue, and usually finishing with startling revelations.

Some articles on mystery writing specify that editors usually like five or six suspects, with one being killed off along the way. Hmmm, I have a couple more, but there is a reason for that which is revealed at the end - but I’m not saying, . . . . . .

Had enough, or do you want to know more?  Suspensesisters is a great blog which has some informative articles on all aspects of crime and mystery writing, including cozies.

Nancy Mehl wrote a great post about writing cozies   
And here is a new crime book club hosted by crime writer Rebecca Bradley - Great fun and some brilliant authors meeting on Google hangouts once a month to discuss the month's mystery novel.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Jane Austen Didn't Have a Critique Group

Is it just me, or is everyone seems to be writing novels these days? The number of author blogs and showcase book blogs on the web are vast and increase daily, in fact is there anyone who isn't writing a book?

The number of traditional publishers is shrinking, and advances offered have declined too, [except for porn novels] once, to my knowledge after the contract was signed. Many have abandoned the slush pile and cut their editing staff to the bone, relying on recommendations from literary agents to find their next titles.

Many titles that reach the bookshelves have celebrity names on the cover, either stories about their lives so far, despite that their average age is about twenty-three and therefore they can have had no life - or actors, models and vocalists who have decided their next career move is to 'write a novel' which instantly get  rushed to the top of the bestseller list. The absence of ability and talent being no bar to publication, al you need is a recognisable name.

Harper Collins launched Authonomy, and left the choice of their next new author to public opinion -and Smashwords is the modern form of vanity publishing where anyone can upload their work to the internet without going through the tiresome and demoralising process of having it rejected, edited, asked to re-work sections, or sharing the proceeds of sales.

My own novels were put through a critique group - twice - to obtain feedback and suggestions as well as iron out those clumsy phrases and 'misplaced modifiers' [my weakness] before being submitted to a publisher.  That someone assessed my work as being publishable was a huge achievement for me.

My second publisher is small press, but working hard to establish a reputation. Their designer put some real artistic effort into my covers, and my editors worked to make the manuscripts as professional as possible. Does that matter now that anyone can say, 'I have a book out'?

It's a sad fact that some good, solid stories are being spoiled by sloppy grammar, confused story arcs and basic mistakes that a critique group or professional editor would have eliminated before publication.  Some do go through this process, of course, and the difference in the finished product is obvious.

But then, Jane Austen didn't have a critique group either, if she had, but maybe some of those endless tea parties and descriptions would have been cut! Then again, would that necessarily be a good thing?

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Do You 'See' Your Characters

When I begin writing my story, which in my case is a spreadsheet which lists my research, chronology and scenes which plot out where I am going, like most authors I follow the 'writers' guide' which suggests I visualise my characters. Know what they look like, what their hair texture and eye colour is, are they strong featured, delicate, tall, short etc etc. Then give them likes and dislikes, mannerisms, aversions and favourites, prejudices, flaws and soft spots - all devised to make them three-dimensional and memorable.

How do you decide what your characters look like?  Can you conjure up a complete picture in your head from the first page, and form a credible person complete with mannerisms, do you build them up slowly as the story progresses, or do you need something more specific to help you along?

Being someone who has little inner vision - eg if someone says, 'Imagine this room without the swirly carpet, the swagged velvet curtains and the mustard paintwork - imprint it with neutral colors, a feature wall and a new stone fireplace.' Are you there? Nope me neither - I cannot see beyond the 60's carpet and the dusty pelmets - I just can't.

I search the web for images of people from the right era, age and roughly the same colouring as the ones I have pictured in my head -a tactic I employed with my latest novel, a cozy mystery set on board a steamship in the year 1900.

I find it much easier to give them facial expressions, mannerisms, even opinions by keeping these images to hand. How do others fix a character in their heads? - and for those of you who are familiar with my wip - is this how you visualised my amateur sleuth and her accomplice?