My Summer Reading Orgy Continued

Continuing my review of the books I read this summer (and there really were a lot of them 🙂 ) with Lisa Kleypas’s recent series.

Lisa Kleypas, Rainshadow Road, St. Martin’s Griffin (28 Feb 2012), Dream Lake, St. Martin’s Griffin (7 Aug 2012)

Lisa Kleypas is an author at the top of the romance game with the awards and bestseller status to show it, and though I have only read a couple of her historical romances, I am fond of her contemporary series. Interestingly, Rainshadow Road and Dream Lake have been packaged and (to my observation) marketed as women’s fiction (trade paperback size, discussion group questions in the back, soft cover art with lovely women depicted). But these books are romances, IMO, where the male main character point of view is perhaps even stronger than the female main character point of view, and sexual tension drives the plot and much of the pace of the books. The covers could just as easily show men in tool belts with ripped abs! (Thanks to Tamera Lynn Kraft at Word Sharpeners for her genre definitions.)

Rainshadow Road and Dream Lake are set in yet another a small town, again in Washington State (I am sensing a publishing trend here), but this one is a real place. I have actually been to Friday Harbor on a very romantic date with the man who is now my husband. We took off into a sparkling blue sky from Whidbey Island in a Navy T-34 airplane. The seats in a T-34 are front and back, and the pilot maneuvers with a stick, like in most fighter aircraft. Cool date, right? Anyway, we swooped through the San Juan Islands with the sun reflecting on the water and—after a perfect landing at the little airport near Friday Harbor—we tied down the plane and walked into town to get a bite to eat. Interestingly, neither of us remembers where we ate or what, but we do remember how cool we thought the town was. I’m thinking we must have held hands at least! 😉

These two books are a continuation of a series Kleypas started with Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, which I also read, but it has been a while (2010). The books follow the lives of the three Nolan brothers (another publishing trend—love comes in threes?), natives of Friday Harbor, who have to change their lives when their sister dies in a car crash and they become her six-year-old daughter’s guardians.

My favorite of the three is Dream Lake. Kleypas is a master of the dark hero, and in Alex Nolan she has created a man who is a heavy drinker with seemingly no redeeming qualities other than his skill at carpentry. Oh, and he’s haunted by a ghost too. He finds redemption and a taste of heaven in the unlikely Zoe Hoffman, a chef for a local bed and breakfast who needs Alex’s help to renovate a cottage for her grandmother who has been diagnosed with vascular dementia.

Favorite line/scene: There are several in this book for me because I love a bad boy hero, but the way Zoe lures Alex with her special talent for preparing food is magical. If I had to choose…Alex decides to sober up and his first morning after giving up booze is rough. Zoe saves him with some strong, sweet coffee and a bit of breakfast strata…

“Sometimes,” she said, “my cooking has a kind of…effect…on people.”

The back of his neck prickled, not unpleasantly. “What kind of effect?”

“I don’t let myself think about it too much. I don’t want to ruin it. But sometimes it seems to make people feel better in a sort of…magical way.” Her smile turned rueful at the edges. “I’m sure you don’t believe in things like that.”

“I’m surprisingly open-minded,” Alex said, conscious of the ghost wandering back into the kitchen.

Writing tip #3—Don’t be afraid to insert FAIRY TALE, MAGICAL, AND PARANORMAL ELEMENTS in your stories. Lisa Kleypas uses all these things to enhance her characters’ connections and also deepen their troubles. Remember Hamlet? It’s fiction after all, which means we get to make it up.

Writing tip #4—What is your character’s SPECIAL SKILL? This time I don’t mean your characters actions but what is your character acknowledged to be good at that ties him or her to the rest of the characters and the plot? Lisa Kleypas is very good at this. In Dream Lake, Alex needs nourishment (body and soul), and Zoe is a wonderful chef. Zoe needs someone to renovate her cottage for her aging grandmother, and Alex is a contractor and master carpenter. In Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, Mark Nolan becomes the guardian of his sister’s traumatized little daughter, and Maggie Collins owns the toy store in town. Widowed Maggie needs to regain connection with the town, and Mark is the town’s coffee shop owner who roasts his own beans.

Do the differences in storytelling and packaging in the romance and women’s fiction genres (or any genre, for that matter) affect your reading choices? Which do you prefer? Do you like when authors infuse their works with magical elements or ghosts? What is YOUR special skill?

Next blog: my thoughts on The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks. Romance or love story?

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What I Did On My Summer Vacation…From Writing

I am back on the blog after an unintentional hiatus this summer. I didn’t actually intend to take a writing vacation (either here or on various works-in-progress) from June until after Labor Day. It just sort of happened. The lack of a set schedule, the demands of children out of school, and the call of the beach all conspired so that I wrote not one word of useful prose for weeks (okay, months). This caused me some discomfort, for what writer is truly content when not writing? But I assuaged my guilt and grumpiness with an orgy of reading, which I will share with you below.

What follows is a bibliographic representation of my reading summer, both from the perspective of a writer and the perspective of a reader. I chose books somewhat at random, but all were well within the parameter of “entertaining” versus “scholarly.” These were the chocolate ice cream cones of the summer’s literary possibilities instead of the broccoli and kale (not that I don’t like broccoli and kale…but you get the drift).
So, in no particular order…

Jill Shalvis, Lucky in Love (Grand Central, 22 May 2012), At Last (Grand Central, 26 June 2012), and Forever and a Day (Grand Central, 31 July 2012)

Shalvis is one of my favorite romance writers. She cleverly released three books this summer, setting up a trio of women to each find love with a hunky man in their fictional Lucky Harbor, a quirky small town in Washington state. I found all three books to be a fun, sexy, and heartwarming combination of worthy characters and intriguing situations, but my favorite was At Last. The middle book in the trio features laid back forest ranger Matt Bower and snarky tough girl Amy Michaels. I do have a soft spot for forest rangers.

Favorite scene/line: Matt has to administer first aid after Amy gets a nasty scratch on her behind after falling down a ravine in the middle of the night. Matt gets a reluctant Amy to drop trou so he can clean the wound but his subsequent reaction to her lovely form is priceless. An excerpt:

“I thought you said you did this a lot.”

“Yeah. I do. But apparently not with anyone I’m wildly attracted to.”

This caused certain reactions in her body that were best not experienced in mixed company. “It’s just panties,” she finally whispered.

“And they’re really great panties,” Matt agreed. “But it’s not the panties, Amy. It’s you.”

Writing tip #1—What do your characters DO? Don’t be afraid to let men be men and women be women. In a romance, a yummy hero who thinks like a guy makes the journey worthwhile. Shalvis’s male characters are MEN. They have manly jobs and do manly things, to include failing to communicate with the heroine at critical moments and occasionally acting all over-protective and alpha, which only makes them more appealing and real. We women are hard-wired to like this. Trust me.

Susan Wiggs, Fireside (Mira, reprint, 26 June 2012), Marrying Daisy Bellamy (Mira, 25 January 2011), The You I Never Knew (Grand Central, reissue, 1 March 2011)

I picked up Fireside at the drugstore when waiting for my daughter’s antibiotic, prescribed for a bad case of swimmer’s ear. I had never read a Susan Wiggs book before, despite her regular appearance on the best-seller and romance favorites lists. It made me wonder if that’s a typical way for a reader to be introduced to a new (to her) writer—in a drugstore/airport/Wal-mart/grocery checkout? In any case, with her larger cast of characters, Wiggs’s books venture away from a classic romance set-up and more into women’s fiction, but the line is very subtle indeed. In Fireside and The You I Never Knew, Wiggs pulled me in with a finely wrought setting (again a small town) and background (baseball and ranching, respectively); and wonderful secondary characters, particularly teen-aged Cody in The You I Never Knew and Daisy Bellamy in Fireside. And apparently I am not the only reader who clamored for Daisy to have a book of her own, according to Wiggs’s website. Marrying Daisy Bellamy was the breakout of the three for me because it was about what happens when you achieve your heart’s desire, and it is suddenly and tragically taken away. In other words, a test of character.

Favorite scene/line: Daisy is a wedding photographer, and the weddings she takes pictures of bring out little nuggets of wisdom throughout the book. This woven theme gives the book continuity, even through flashbacks, and setting and POV changes. These nuggets are really the author’s worldview, but the reader sees them (lyrical and heartfelt) from the eyes of the point of view characters. A sample:

The flaws were what made a wedding special and memorable…Every event, no matter how carefully planned, had its imperfections…

These were the things that made life interesting. As a single mother, Daisy had learned to appreciate the unplanned. Some of her life’s sweetest moments came when she least expected them—the clutch of her son’s tiny hands, anchoring her to earth with a power greater than gravity. Some of the most awful moments too—a train pulling out of the station, leaving her behind, along with her dreams—but she tried not to dwell on that.

Writing tip #2—What is your character’s HEART’S DESIRE? Show us and then don’t let her have it right away, or let her have it but take it away later. Wiggs introduced Daisy and the two men who love her, Julian and Logan, in earlier books, but in Marrying Daisy Bellamy, she presents Daisy with the one thing she wants most in the world. Will she get it? We are rooting for her because we know the stakes for Daisy, but we don’t want it to be too easy either.

To be continued…

Yeah, I really did do a lot of reading. Stay tuned for my thoughts on books I read this summer by Lisa Kleypas, Jo Beverley, Pamela Morsi, and Nicholas Sparks.

What about you? Did you read anything good this summer? Maybe something involving 50 shades…? Did any of your goals get sidetracked by the summer routine? What did YOU do this summer?

Summer Breezes and Immortality

We’ve been enjoying some fabulous summer days here in Coastal Virginia. When I was sitting out on my back patio recently, the delightful weather brought to mind that most famous first line of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnet:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

So I looked up Sonnet 18. And here’s the thing about Shakespeare: there’s always more to his writing than one meets in the initial read.

First, here is the full text as taken from the 1609 Quarto Version and reproduced on shakespeares-sonnets.com :

Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Now, a few things I found to fascinate me in this sonnet, which those of you more familiar with The Bard’s works may already know:

1) Shakespearean scholars are fairly unanimous in thinking that this poem and, in fact, roughly the first two-thirds of the 152 sonnets in the 1609 Quarto are addressed to a young man by the poet (also a man–Shakespeare). One interpretation I read concluded that this was not particularly shocking on Shakespeare’s part, but rather, a representation of pure love, or love untainted by desire. Another interpretation identified the young man referred to in the sonnets as a rival poet who competes with Shakespeare for the favor of the “dark” lady addressed in the latter third of the poems.

2) This sonnet is possibly the most quoted love poem in the English language.

3) The real aim of the poem, as contained in the final couplet, is to point out that a man (or woman) can be made immortal and unchanged by time through the wonder of words written down. A kind of technological breakthrough of parchment and quill.

4) The 1609 Quarto Version was published by one Thomas Thorpe, who in an echo of our 21st century concerns about pirating of copyrighted material may have stolen this version to compile and publish it without Shakespeare’s consent. (Though this point was debated in the research I read on the 1609 printing.)

In exploring this most famous “Summer’s Day” sonnet, I have found a new favorite in the Sonnets of Shakespeare. Sonnet 141 has a sharp, dark texture but it still extols love, ever mysterious.

Sonnet 141

In faith I do not love thee with mine eyes, 
For they in thee a thousand errors note;
But ’tis my heart that loves what they despise,
Who, in despite of view, is pleased to dote.
Nor are mine ears with thy tongue’s tune delighted;
Nor tender feeling, to base touches prone,
Nor taste, nor smell, desire to be invited
To any sensual feast with thee alone:
But my five wits nor my five senses can
Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee,
Who leaves unswayed the likeness of a man,
Thy proud heart’s slave and vassal wretch to be:
Only my plague thus far I count my gain,
That she that makes me sin awards me pain.

“The poet runs through a catalogue of the senses, to see what it is that attracts him to his mistress. In fact he finds nothing, and therefore concludes that it must be some perverseness in his heart that forces him to love her and to be her slave. His reward is that she gives him penances for the sin he is committing in loving her….There is therefore an element of parody in this sonnet of Shakespeare’s…For that reason it brings us down to earth with a bump, for it tears us away from the tortured conceits of the sonneteers, and perhaps from our own idealisations of the beings we love, and forces us to accept that the things we love often have an earthly and earthy beauty, much less than a divine one. For we also know that love is a power beyond rationality, and that it does not depend on the beloved being made of coral, or ivory, or rubies, but of flesh and blood with all its imperfections.” —shakespeares-sonnets.com

To that I say, “Yes. Oh, YES!”

Do you have a favorite sonnet or poem? Would you rather capture pure, untainted love or earthy, real love in your writing? Does writing something down make it immortal?

Seals and Crofts Summer Breeze from 1972

Lucky 7 Writing Share! Yipes.

Tagged with the Lucky 7 meme (what is a meme, exactly?), by Myndi Shafer AND Emma Burcart, I scrolled through the WIP, only to find out I don’t actually have a page 77–haven’t progressed past page 56. So below you will find 7 paragraphs from page 14, multiples of 7 still count, right? I have really enjoyed the snippets of people’s works-in-progress. Now to tag some other writers…

Here are the rules.

1. Go to page 77 of your current MS/WIP
2. Go to line 7
3. Copy down the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs, and post them as they’re written.
4. Tag 7 authors, and let them know.

Here’s my bit from the WIP I have titled TAYLOR’S BARGAIN:

“So, what do I have to do with your bride-to-be dumping you? You said this wasn’t just a catch up on old times session.” She fiddled with her silverware, lining it up precisely with the bottom of the bread plate.

“I have a…ah…proposal to make.” He took a small sip of water, and she noticed his long, strong fingers.

Her gaze snapped to Alex’s face. “To me?”

“Yes. Taylor, will you marry me?”

Her foolish, foolish heart skipped its next beat, and its next. The racket in the restaurant fell away, and it was just the two of them in a cone of utter silence, where she could hear the thump thump of her heart beat. “Marry you?”

“Well, really it’s just an engagement. Or a fake engagement actually. I need a fiancee to hook this big investor I’ve been scouting for weeks. He’s very conservative and he’d expressed his pleasure that I was getting married soon.”

Her fists clenched in her lap. “Well, I don’t think it’s going to make your case when you show up with another bride entirely.”

Tagging seven more authors to share (sorry if you’ve already been tagged, you can share twice!). Come on, you know you want to… 🙂

Susie Lindau

The Journal Pulp

Shannyn Schroeder

Jillian Dodd

Louise Behiel

Ted Strutz

Pat O’Dea Rosen

Let’s see ’em, writers! Don’t be shy now.

Dialog: “What on earth is that?” she said.

I have been working on my Work In Progress (yes! my next book!) and I truly love drafting dialog between my characters. I think dialog is where the characters really show their personalities to me. And that put me in mind of a blog post I wrote on dialog back in June for Edits That Rock (a venture in which I am co-founder, along with fabulous editor, Rochelle French).

Dialog is what the characters say to each other. However, it is not JUST that. Every bit of dialog should either add information about the characters OR push the story forward by providing information about the plot OR both these things.

For example, this talk between two characters does none of the above:

“How is the soup?” Lynn asked.

“Wonderful. The leeks are the best I have ever tasted. How is your steak?” Amy asked.

“Very good,” Lynn replied.

This is conversation, perhaps, but it is not dialog. Besides being boring, this little chat doesn’t tell us anything about the story question, or how the characters might be in CONFLICT. (Unless, perhaps, Amy is a vegetarian…)

Compare the above conversation to the following dialog between characters from the FBI thriller Got the Look by James Grippando:

“… if I’m not mistaken, the police never recovered a body, did they?”

“No.”

“Then how do you know your sister is dead?”

“Because we’re sisters. Family.” She leaned closer to the old woman. “We look after our family.”

Grippando uses dialog here to tell us something about the character whose sister is dead—she values family. He also gives the reader something to wonder about. Is the sister dead? There is also conflict. The questioning is personal, and the answers ratchet up the tension.

Dialog needs to do a lot of the heavy lifting of moving the story forward in a novel. Character conversation should never be just about the weather, for example, unless a cloudy day or a sweltering night is important to the story.

So, if we add some conflict and character development to Lynn and Amy’s conversation above, it might go more like this:

Lynn cut into her medium rare filet and sighed at its perfect blood-red center. She cast a quick glance at Amy’s bowl. “Is that the same green stuff you ate the other night?”

Amy dabbed at the corner of her mouth with her napkin. “Yes. These leeks are the best I’ve ever tasted. How’s that bit of charred animal flesh you’re sawing on?”

Lynn grinned around a large bite. “Delicious.”

Now that we’ve established tension between Lynn and Amy, we’ve also established a reader expectation that this conflict is somehow important to the story. The reader now will anticipate that Lynn and Amy will butt heads again over food choices or other choices they might make.

Dialog is often easy to write, but more difficult to edit. The key is to make sure your characters are revealing themselves and forwarding the motion of the story, not simply chatting up a storm.

What about you? What makes you connect with your story? An image, a character, a snippet of song? Do you like to write dialog? How about vegetables? 🙂