Archive | January, 2011

My books-volume two!

26 Jan

Once I discovered RWA, I promptly joined, just as I always encourage anyone who wants to write books. You don’t have to aim for ‘romance’ to join, you can still benefit from their conferences and networking. Anyway, one of the first communications I received from them was a flier for their national conference to be held that year (1989) in Boston. I thought, ‘oh that’s nice’ and put it aside, thinking I couldn’t possibly afford it. But then, I investigated further and discovered a Regency workshop featuring Edith Layton, Barbara Hazard and Joan Wolfe, moderated by then-Signet editor Hilary Ross. OMG!

If those four women were to be in one room at one time, and there was any possibility that I could be there, also, I certainly had to try for it. With a good bit of help from a good friend, I made it! I loved every minute of the conference, learned a lot, and made many, many new friends. It was totally fabulous!

An interesting side venture, however, really captured my attention. One of the bigger publishers at the time was sponsoring a contest. This particular line was short contemporary romance – complete with sex scenes. I was quite certain I’d never be able to write such a thing, but their offer really grabbed me! They would read ANY manuscript received at their office during the six weeks following the close of the conference. Of course, the manuscript had to be suitable for that line, and the winner would be offered a contract. Dumb me, I decided to try for it.

To demonstrate how my cluttered mind works, several things influenced this story, which I titled But Not For Love. It’s from Shakespseare’s famous quote “Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.” My daughter had just come back into my life after too long an estrangement, but she was still troubled. This time it was an abusive husband, so I borrowed heavily from her life in several ways, all of which she approved. Sadly, it was an element of which we knew nothing (a congenital heart ailment) that took her from us fifteen years later, but still many years too soon.

I had also read about a building in England that dated to the 1500s (or thereabouts) that had been purchased, carefully dismantled and brought to the Cleveland area and re-assembled. It’s still here, but I don’t recall just where. The university campus is that of CRWU in University Circle. They have a lovely old, stone building there that seemed to me to be the physical embodiment of the building in my book. I drove by Adelbert Hall nearly every day, but was never inside it until about 13 years after I’d written the book.

It certainly seemed reasonable to me for my heroine of this contemporary romance to be a writer of romance novels – but of course, they’d be Regency. That’s the only writing life I knew much about—and also the necessary research to make the book believable. Believe me, no readership as a whole is more insulted and turned off by inaccuracies or carelessness than Regency devotées. It has to be right, or the book is just totally trashed. Literally.

I didn’t think I could write love scenes, but I persevered, and I guess they’re okay. I certainly could create a marvelous hero – I only had to examine my own mind and heart and create the gentleman I’d most like to meet. Other details just sort of fell into place, and to my great surprise, in just about a month from when I hatched the idea, I had a first draft of some 55,000 words!

To my not-so-great surprise, the book didn’t win any prizes in that contest. In fact, no one won anything. The form rejection letter I received blithely informed that they’d received some 400 entries and NOT ONE of them passed muster. I truthfully wasn’t overly upset that I didn’t get anywhere, as I’d never even contemplated the notion of writing a contemporary anything. But to think that not one of the authors showed any promise at all was mind-boggling to me then, as it is now. In all honesty, I don’t think they looked very hard, or read very carefully.

However, the whole project did give me confidence. After all, I had now completed two books (and two plays) all vastly different from each other, (on each historical and contemporary) during the previous four years. That gave me hope that maybe – someday – the chemistry would work better, and I’d find what it was that I should be doing. I started several other books, but none of them made it to completion, mostly due to other things occupying my mind.

In 1990, I went to the RWA conference in San Francisco, and was elected president of my local chapter, which led to the next book. And – my daughter moved in with me. This sequence of events was to be the catalyst that led to the next three books.

But in the meantime – after Bertie found a home with Cerridwen Press, I asked if they’d be interested in my two unpublished books. They invited me to submit them, which I did, and subsequently both of them were published.  My fourth book (Ardenwycke Unveiled) was published first while But Not For Love came along as an e-book in January, 2008.  It’s not yet made it to print, but I’m ever hopeful. It is available as an e-book from my publisher’s site, and as a Kindle. While I must say I don’t necessarily think the cover is an accurate representation of my characters, it IS a gorgeous and eye-catching cover. Don’t you agree? Here ‘tis –

blush-cover

Ordering and other info is available at the web-site:  http://www.jasminejade.com/pm-4263-383-but-not-for-love.aspx It’s also available as a Kindle.

I hope you’ll come back in a week or two for the next installment, which led to my first book in print! See you then!

 

And as always, if you have questions or comments, please write to me at bookmechanic@gmail.com   Thanks!

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First you dream – then you do!

19 Jan

Dreams, of course, come in many guises. They can be nighttime dreams or daydreams, but whichever variety you are most susceptible to, they are vitally important. I think you have to actually dream it before you can do it. And I do believe that most people who have a dream about accomplishing something specific, and set their sights accordingly, can indeed achieve that goal.

An important thing to remember is that you’re never too old to dream. For instance, if you’ve never sung a note in public, chances are pretty good that suddenly dreaming of being an opera star at the age of 70 or 80 or so might not stand a high chance of success. But—if you’ve been singing and studying all your life, it’s not unrealistic that at the age of 50-60, you could achieve your goal – maybe even on a professional stage! Probably best not to aim for the Metropolitan Opera or LaScala, but there are hundreds of smaller stages available for you to showcase your talents.

I’m such a klutz (and always have been) that to dream of being a dancer is so far beyond me, I might as well dream of being an astronaut. But space and rocket ships never appealed to me; I like things with wheels! Race car driver? Check. Semi-driver? Check. Motorcycle driver? Nope. I need at least three of those round things under me, or whoopsie! Big-time.

Then again, timing does matter. 55 years ago I wanted to be a sports writer or a French horn player in an orchestra. I could write and was crazy about sports, and I’d been studying music for ten years by then. I was very capable, but – in those days, women didn’t do things like that. So it was back to the drawing board. Eventually, however, I was able to use those early skills in a way I’d never even considered. For the past few years now, I’ve been (successfully) reviewing all sorts of classical music concerts for several on-line venues, and occasional printed ones, too. And for five years, I was the staff writer for the Cleveland Fusion, the women’s tackle football team. But, in that time I’d also had five books published, too.

I have a good friend who dreams entire books! True. Her biggest problem then is to actually get it all written before the memory fades. She has been singularly successful with this endeavor. As for me?  Well, ideas just land in my lap, although on occasion, I wake up with a scene or two in my head that I can then put into words. I seldom remember very much of my nighttime dreams, however.

So what works best for me is — I somehow come up with an idea or scene, and then let it stew in my mind for a day, a week, a year – although that latter doesn’t really happen all that often. Usually, the ‘thing’ takes root within a week or so, and more of the idea fleshes itself out in my mind. Then, it’s get out of the way and just let me do.

Dreams of whatever kind are important, unless they’re nightmares, of course. On the other hand, given the success of horror books and films in recent years, they may be a good thing, if you’re inclined toward that genre. More power to you, if so.  Just please don’t ask me to read it for you.

So you’ve sort of had this noodgy feeling that maybe, someday, you’d like to write a book. Great! What are you waiting for? There is no age limit involved in becoming an author. What’s that? You don’t know how/where to start? That’s easy. You sit yourself down in front of the computer, open up a blank document, and start typing. It’s simple, really!  Oh, you don’t know what to write? Well, start anywhere.

How about:  I was born . . . (most people were, so that sentence shouldn’t be all that hard to complete!)

Or, how about:  It was a dark and stormy night . . . (worked great for Snoopy! And Edward Bulwer- Lytton.)

Or, if you don’t care for either of those ideas, here’s one that just popped into my head. Take it and run with it, with my blessings.

It wasn’t quite time for evening rush hour, so I was able to get a window seat on the bus. Of course, the window wouldn’t open, because of the air-conditioning, but still I could look out and see the store windows and the people, and cars and bikes, and all that. Just as the bus began to move after taking on two more passengers, I glanced out again, and gasped in astonishment. I couldn’t believe what I saw! . . .

Let me know how you do, okay?

See you next week! If you have questions, please write to me at bookmechanic@gmail.com

Birthing Bertie —

12 Jan

People always ask me (and other authors, too, I know) “Where do you get your ideas?” As if I knew! My usual smart-aleck response is  “They fall out of the sky and land in my lap.”  I really don’t know. Some little thing somewhere will put an idea into my head and away I go!   Sometimes it just dies there, and sometimes it doesn’t. Several times the idea has grabbed me so strongly I couldn’t let it go — and it finally wins out and becomes a book.  And sometimes — I’m sorry to say, I get distracted–or worse, I run into a snag, and put it up for while, where it stays in limbo until something jostles it loose again. I know, I’ve used the word ‘sometimes’ in there entirely too many times, but that’s because I don’t know what else to call it!

Every now and then, however, I’m asked, what made you write this book? So, I decided to tell you the story of how each of my books (so far) came into existence. Maybe you’ll find a bit of inspiration in here for yourself, as well. I hope so.

The first book I wrote (translate: finished!) was a Regency romance.  I was quite surprised by this event, as I was actually working on a historical book about Katherine of Valois, the wife of Henry V, and then Owen Tudor. But I had little luck reading myself to sleep while going through large research books, searching for those intriguing tid-bits of interest.  Stopping every now and then to write a note to myself effectively pushed back the sandman until I decided if I was ever going to sleep again, I had to find other reading materials.

I’d always loved Georgette Heyer’s delightful Regency confections, and to a lesser extent the many books of Dame Barbara Cartland. There were a few others (this was in the early 80s before Regencies really took off) so I was able to happily read myself to sleep with an abundance of them. A few years later, to my great surprise, I woke up one morning with a story idea for a Regency novel. I thought nothing of it (ideas are NOT strangers to me!) and went on researching. The next morning, there were additions to that idea.

At work that evening, a young lady I knew uttered an infamous statement that so captured my attention, I said to myself – there’s Bertie!  Karen stumbled a bit going over a threshold. She didn’t pull one of my stunts, (falling flat on my face!) but recovered herself very gracefully, and muttered, “Ah yes, Grace is my middle name!” I couldn’t help myself and burst out laughing, and I told her she’d just given me a boost for my book. So, the next morning, I said, okay, and sat down at my typewriter. By this time it was early January, 1988, and three weeks later, (Superbowl Sunday, in fact) I had produced a full-length novel of some 70,000 words.

Curiously enough, my Medieval research came in rather handy, as I already knew that Richard of York (who would become Richard III) had served as the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, so there was part of my Duke’s family background, at my fingertips.

By happy coincidence, the very day I finished typing the book on the typewriter, my first computer was hooked up and ready to go, so the next day I started typing it again. And editing a wee bit in the process. Then what? I had no clue whatever. Believe me, if you read all those rules about what not to do when writing to a publisher – I did every single thing on that list! I can’t believe how stupid I was!

Eighteen months later, not one editor had expressed interest in my book. Not one! But everyone local who read the book loved it. What was wrong with those goofy people in New York? Well, part of the problem was that it was written in first person, and as this was just after Regency was married to romance (silly me – I thought Heyer’s books were just simply novels!) it was considered mandatory to have multiple viewpoints so the reader could know just exactly what the hero and heroine were thinking. Not necessarily at the same time, but sequentially. What did I know? Nada.

I did, however, find RWA – or Romance Writers of America, and discovered several very prolific Regency authors, whom I still read today, in fact! Edith Layton, Mary Balogh, Sandra Heath, Patricia Rice, Barbara Metzger, and many more, of course.  I loved their clever plots, engaging characters and sense of humor—and was shocked when they introduced love scenes! Eeegads. Not in Regencies!

Yes, indeed. Get with it, Kelly. Sex was here to stay. Just not in my book, thank you!  At any rate, this first book was called Bertie’s Golden Treasure and nobody but me ever loved the poor girl. Until – fast forward almost 20 years, when I first heard about a newish publisher who was starting a Regency line called Cotillion. I was advised to submit Bertie, so I did. And of all things, they liked it enough to offer a contract!!! Need I tell you I did not hesitate? Not one second, believe me.

I had submitted it with a pseudonym – Hetty St. James. And that’s the name it was published under, and it’s still available! In print or as a Kindle and other e-formats, as well. I remain thrilled by this success, and have been seriously working on a new Regency. In the meantime, I wrote a very short Regency-set adventure tale called Just Like Old Times . . . which was also accepted by Cotillion as part of their Scintillating Samples program. It is only an e-book, or Kindle, but has been quite popular on the Amazon best-seller short romance list.  (It’s a free download from either site.)

I should clarify here that just after I finished Bertie and started sending it out to publishers, they all stopped publishing Regencies! Really. How frustrating. First it was Walker, then Warner, until within ten years, there weren’t really any left. (When I first started Bertie, there were 10 publishers who collectively released 22 or so books EVERY MONTH!!! Within ten years, a grand total of six to eight books were being produced each month by three publishers , and less than five years later, there were none.)  Thank goodness for e-books, and self-publishing which kept the genre supplied, until now it’s picking up again. Oh—and thanks, too, for Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the famous BBC-A&E version of Pride & Prejudice! In all honesty, I think he’s solely responsible for the current increase in the availability of Regency-set books.

Generally, Bertie has received excellent reviews and I hope her step-sibling Arabella, or whoever the others are, gets into print soon, as well. (Like the old woman in the shoe, I can’t remember all their names, off the top of my head!) Of course, first I have to finish her (or someone), don’t I?

Here’s Bertie’s cover, which I really, really like!

If you’re so inclined, you may purchase a print copy or e-book from my publisher here:

http://www.jasminejade.com/m-280-hetty-stjames.aspx– – –

Or, you can also download (for free!) Hetty’s short story ‘Just Like Old Times’.  Happy Reading!

P. S. You’re almost the first to know that I am also Hetty St. James! I decided it was time to come out of my Regency closet–Bertie has been available now for some 3½ years!

The 4th R!

5 Jan

One hundred years or so ago, there were FOUR R’s taught in elementary school. We all think readily of the first three, [Reading, (w)Riting, and (a)Rithmetic] but for a writer or singer, the fourth was by far the most important. Recitation. I remember it, and also remember not being overly fond of it, but a child’s wish didn’t matter much to the teachers or supervisors back then. In those days (before the advent of all this too-loud media—remember, this was even in the days BEFORE [gasp!] Television!) speaking intelligibly and pleasingly was very important to everyone. It was of course, essential to be understood by everyone, and so recitation was a necessary part of one’s education.

Obviously, an actor or singer needs to know how to use the spoken/sung words, but I think it’s also almost as important for a writer. People complain all the time about writing dialogue: the writer hates it, and readers complain about it. “It’s too stiff!” Or “It’s stilted. It just doesn’t sound like real people talking.”

Indeed. Think about the plays of Shakespeare, for instance. To the uneducated ear (in our modern day, that is) the words can be vastly intimidating. They make no sense whatever. But give them to a trained actor, and the poetry in those same words literally jumps out of every phrase. And guess what? There are almost NO four-letter words in there. (Editorial opinion here: [it’s my blog – I’m allowed!]  We’ve permitted too many junk words to replace older words that had meaning. It is possible to express oneself very well without using all those crutches, believe me. If you can’t think of the right word – start looking. I guarantee there is one.) You and your readers will be much happier.

As an example – think of all the classic movies from the 30s through the 50s. They weren’t  laden with profanity, because ordinary people didn’t speak that way; they knew other words to use. And it IS those words and the way they were spoken that made the movie the classic that it is. (Or if they did use profanity or other offensive words, they knew when and where to use them!) I don’t know if it’s laziness or the loss of civility that allowed this runaway train to be on the loose, but I think it needs to be caught and restrained. (Yes, I AM an old fuddy-duddy!)

The rhythm of the words is equally important. Spaces happen between words—whether written or spoken—for a reason. A major complaint these days is that people speak so fast they can’t be understood. And this comment isn’t only uttered by seniors, either! Musicians know that the pauses in music are as important as the notes that are played.

This is one reason why I always suggest (advise, actually) that writers read their own work out loud – to a sympathetic listener or critique partner. If this is not always workable, invest in a small tape recorder. Record, then play it back and listen to it yourself. IS it stilted? Does it flow? Do characters interrupt each other? Was that a sentence that could just have easily been three? Or two? Does each character have a different or unique voice? A good or normal sentence should not require stopping to catch your breath in the middle of it.

In debating, it’s a common trick to repeat the nub of the question at the beginning of one’s response – this allows one to gather stray thoughts into a sensible whole. As a writer, you can utilize this same concept in your dialogue, and then just go back and eliminate the redundancies.

A great way to hear how this works is to get some tapes/CDs/whatevers from your local library. If they don’t have an audio collection, they should be able to get some through interlibrary loan. As you listen pay special attention to inflection. Are the words and/or meaning really boring?

Good poetry spoken by a trained actor can be an amazing revelation. Try it for yourself. If you’re not familiar with it, look up ‘My Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning. You can easily find not only the words, but multiple audio versions as well, with a quick search on the web.

As I look back at it now, recitation also offered a lot of fringe benefits: each student was required to get up in front of the class to recite. We learned to speak properly, look around the room (not by rote) but at each student, use our voices to speak softly or louder, faster or slower—we were actors in training, learning how to simulate laughter or tears, as the words commanded. We learned to pronounce all the words correctly. In spite of ourselves and the sometimes laughter of our fellow students, we learned a degree of poise that served us well in future endeavors. Some of us even learned these same lessons from participating in church services.

Voice is an important factor in writing. It can mean the ‘writer’s voice’ and some writers can be identified solely by their voice, or it can mean how the writer voices his characters.

Try it! You, too, might be pleasantly surprised!

 

As always, if you have questions, comments or objections, please leave a comment or write to me at: bookmechanic@wordpress.com

See you next week with the story of how I came to write my first book!