By the time you read this it will be the day after Valentine’s Day, and I spent yesterday agonizing about what to write.
This angst over Valentine’s Day and romance is not unfounded. My first book was a romance. In Passion’s Defense was about a defense lawyer falling in love with a prosecutor during a gruesome trial. That should have been my first clue that perhaps mayhem rather than meet ups was my cup of tea. But I was slow on the uptake, and I wrote eight category romances. I think they are pretty darn good and they got better with each one. I wrote my heart out for Harlequin but I couldn’t seem to color in the lines, so I started writing women’s fiction. The editorial freedom, the more intricate plot lines, and the emphasis on plot rather than relationship helped me thrive. Dreams, Seasons, Vanities were just some of my titles. I wrote a lot of women’s fiction, but still I hadn’t hit my comfort zone as a writer. Then two things happened that sealed my fate.
First, the incredible RWA bookseller—Michelle Thorne—delicately informed me that my idea of romance was the hero chucking the heroine on the arm and giving her a smile. She was right. I was not a sexy writer in the years when other authors were pushing the envelope. My editor at Kensington was more direct. He said ‘You have to stop killing people before they get in bed!’. In essence he fired me from romance. I was devastated. Later I realized this was the silver lining in my very dark cloud.
When I started writing thrillers I found my passion and isn’t passion what love is all about? Still, without the learning curve of the romance genre, without the editors and readers, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to break up with women’s fiction as it was defined all those years ago and move on to my literary partner for life.
That doesn’t mean I left romance behind completely. Every book I write is based on relationships, but the emphasis of stories is little different from the classic romance novel. And then there’s my mom. One day she asked if I could write a book-without-bodies. I wrote three. On my mother’s ninetieth birthday, I presented her with a trilogy of sweet, romantic comedies: The Day Bailey Devlin’s Horoscope Came True, The Day Bailey Devlin Picked Up a Penny and the Day Bailey Devlin’s Ship Came in. These books encompassed every thing I love about romance: humor, honesty, confusion, honor, and affection for not just one man but all the men in Bailey’s life. Young or old, they be a lover or father or friend, it was all about love. I will always be most proud of, be in love with, the Bailey Devlin Trilogy because it reflects my definition of romance.
Today I put those three books in a boxed set and I hope when a reader finishes the stories, her (his) heart will be fuller, there might be a tear in her eye, she will have laughed out loud and then will turn around and pass all that feeling on to someone she loves.
Happy Belated Valentine’s Day.
The genre of novels that seems to endure are the spy thrillers and stories of behind-the-scenes government scandals. Here are some very interesting and I’d even say, “watershed” novels about the cold war that have colored our vision of the past and the future. After researching some, I’ve made a list of just a few of the more influential titles and included a short synopsis of each:
First published in 1958, Our Man in Havana is an espionage thriller, a penetrating character study, and a political satire that still resonates to this day. Conceived as one of Graham Greene’s ‘entertainments,’ it tells of MI6’s man in Havana, Wormold, a former vacuum-cleaner salesman turned reluctant secret agent out of economic necessity. To keep his job, he files bogus reports based on Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare and dreams up military installations from vacuum-cleaner designs. Then his stories start coming disturbingly true. (Goodreads)
A piercing exposé of American incompetence and corruption in Southeast Asia, The Ugly American captivated the nation when it was first published in 1958. The book introduces readers to an unlikely hero in the titular “ugly American”—and to the ignorant politicians and arrogant ambassadors who ignore his empathetic and commonsense advice. In linked stories and vignettes set in the fictional nation of Sarkhan, William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick draw an incisive portrait of American foreign policy gone dangerously wrong—and how it might be fixed. The Ugly American reminds us that “today, as the battle for hearts and minds has shifted to the Middle East, we still can’t speak Sarkhanese” (New York Times).
In this classic, John le Carre’s third novel and the first to earn him international acclaim, he created a world unlike any previously experienced in suspense fiction. With unsurpassed knowledge culled from his years in British Intelligence, le Carre brings to light the shadowy dealings of international espionage in the tale of a British agent who longs to end his career but undertakes one final, bone-chilling assignment. When the last agent under his command is killed and Alec Leamas is called back to London, he hopes to come in from the cold for good. His spymaster, Control, however, has other plans. Determined to bring down the head of East German Intelligence and topple his organization, Control once more sends Leamas into the fray—this time to play the part of the dishonored spy and lure the enemy to his ultimate defeat. (Goodreads)
It is interesting to note that each of these novels was later made into a motion picture. Our Man in Havana with Alec Guinness (1959), The Ugly American with Marlon Brando (1963), and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold with Richard Burton (1965).
As is the case with most things a writer encounters, great fiction will always be thrilling but many times the reality is scarier and more strange than we could ever write.
This morning I read an article entitled Mister Waters’s Cardigan. It seems that Mr. John Waters, the campy, iconic American film director, screenwriter, author, actor, stand up comedian and all-around-impressive guy wears a ‘writing’ cardigan with mother-of-pearl buttons to spark his imagination. It is an Our Legacy cardigan. Our Legacy is a line of clothing designed for “down-to-earth, embarrassed-to-be-affluent fashionistas who never want to look silly” (this according to Mr. Waters). I looked up Our Legacy. The man’s cardigan I saw would set you back $458. It was very nice and very understated. Indeed, this cardigan would fool anyone into thinking the darn thing was made for a regular Joe.
I read the half-page article about Mr. Waters’s cardigan and lusted over the column inches dedicated to his sweater and his work. But the sweater? I’ll pass. You see, I have writing wear too and I think mine beats his hands down. Instead of a sweater, I wear a fleece jacket. It is made of recycled tires. My husband keeps trying to wash the darn thing because the cuffs are turning black and he thinks it’s dirty. I explain this is just the fleece wearing out and the black rubber of the recycled tires peeking through, but he will have none of it. I am constantly rescuing my writing jacket from the laundry.
Instead of an understated heather grey, my jacket is screaming-mimi yellow. I make no excuses for this. I know I am not at my most attractive in this jacket. I actually look like a cross between Tweety Bird and an egg yolk. On a good day I can pass for Sponge Bob Squarepants.
My jacket has no fashionista sensibilities with its big collar, giant cuffs and boxy cut. My jacket has three plastic buttons. My writing jacket set me back $10. Yes, that is ten buck-a-roos which is $448 less than Mr. Waters’s cardigan.
As different as Mr. Waters and I are – he writes camp, I write thrillers, he is affluent, I am what I am – we are the same in that we draw inspiration from something we don before we write. Our writing clothes keep us warm, help us think, signals to the world that we are working and are not to be disturbed. Our jacket/sweaters give us confidence and stick with us as we create worlds far away from the world we’re in. So the bottom line is this: find your writing sweater/jacket. No matter what it looks like, no matter how much you spend on it, if it’s the right one the benefits you will gain as an author are priceless.
When I received an email from best selling author Melissa F. Miller asking me to join a book bundle with thriller authors Pamela Callow, Diane Capri, Colleen Cross, and Pamela Samuels Young, I jumped at the chance.
We released Legal Action ($2.99) and Legal Briefs ($.99) earlier this month. Legal Action is a set of six full-length novels; Legal Briefs is a bundle of novella’s and short stories. I like to think this two pronged approach is unique. I certainly thought the addition of Legal Briefs was genius. I attended the NINC (Novelists Inc.) conference in Florida mainly to meet some of these ladies. The experience was fabulous, but even without face-to-face meetings this bundle would have been a great collaboration.
WHY IT WORKED:
If you want to participate in a boxed set with other authors take it upon yourself to start the process. Offer a proposal that is both creatively exciting and purposeful in marketing. That will begin the conversation.
One last thing. Google the title of your bundle before it’s set in stone. Imagine our surprise when we found out that Legal Briefs was also the title of a number of erotica novels. At least our cover stands out. Though if we had an image of a man in his underwear on the cover maybe our reach might be greater.
So Bundle up. It can be a wonderful experience.
P.S. Offer the administrator a percentage of any profit. Their work is invaluable.
Follow Rebecca or contact her at www.rebeccaforster.com
Today a lady wrote to tell me she loved my book Hostile Witness* because I hadn’t killed Max. I’ve been traveling a lot in the last few weeks and it took me a minute to figure out who Max was and why it was so important to her that he was alive. Max, of course, is Josie Bates’ dog; Josie is the heroine of the Witness Series. The reader’s concern for Max made me wonder why a book that includes an animal is richer, more entertaining, and more engaging than one without?
The answer is simple. Pets provide a natural assist in plot, dialogue and emotional content.
Max-the-Dog (his legal name) was originally created as a reflection of Josie Bates, his mistress. Both Max and Josie had been abandoned, had to fight for their lives, and were protective of others. As the series unfolded, though, Max became so much more than Josie’s mirror. Here are four ways Max contributed to the success of the Witness Series:
Max kicked up human action/reaction: Those who attack him were inherently more evil than a bad guy who ignored him. Those who love Max were more admirable because they cared for and protect him.
Max was a great listener:Internal dialogue can be tedious. However, speculation, rhetorical questions, or monologues sound natural when directed at pets.
Max changed the tone: A scene tone can be set by the way a human character speaks to or interacts with an animal counterpart. A whispered warning creates a much different tone than a screaming command; a languid pet conjures up different visions than a playful ruffling of fur.
Max moved the plot forward:An animal’s needs can change a human character’s trajectory. In Privileged Witness, when Josie takes Max out for his evening constitutional they find her fugitive client hiding outside. Without Max, Josie would have no reason to go outside and never would have discovered her client. An animal’s heightened senses can also warn of danger or alert a human to a change in their surroundings without the scene seeming forced.
From The Hound of the Baskervilles to Lassie and Blue Dog, My Friend Flicka and The Black Stallion, The Cheshire Cat and Puss-in-Boots, animals have frolicked as humans, served to reflect human frailties and strengths, and just plain worked their way into reader’s hearts.
So, to the kind lady who was concerned about Max, have no fear. He will never come to a violent end. No matter what happens to him, his presence or lack thereof, will be a decision motivated by story and plot and, of course, love. Max has sat at my psychic feet with every Witness Series book.
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