Not the usual suspects . . .

February 28, 2008

Hello, my friend,
Today is the official launch day for DISTRACTING THE DUCHESS! (Though if you’re an Amazon customer, you know it’s been available here a couple days early!) I love these characters and I’m so excited to be able to offer Artemisia and Trev’s love story to the world.
When I decided to write a Victorian set tale, I wanted to make sure my characters weren’t the usual suspects–you know, the ingenue and the rake. That’s story’s been told, often and well. So I decided to make my heroine outrageous for her time (she’s a widowed duchess who longs to be recognized as a serious artist, so she paints nudes!). And my hero is ‘over-the-top’ sexy (a nude model with nothing to hide, except the fact that he’s Her Majesty’s spy!). If I threw these two strong-minded individuals together, I hoped something interesting would come of it.
The reviews have been terrific. The watchword seems to be “fast-paced.” One reviewer even told me reading it reminded her of riding the “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” attraction at Disney World. She hastened to assure me that was a good thing. And RT BookReviews has tapped my hero, Trevelyn, for their K.I.S.S. Award (Knight in Shining Silver!)
But I know the only review that really counts is YOURS, dear reader. Please let me know what you think of DISTRACTING THE DUCHESS by publishing your review here once you’ve read it. Thanks!


On my local RWA loop, one of the other writers asked what types of promo actually work to introduce an author to new readers. Wow. If I knew the answer to that one, I’d be able to retire to Maui next week. I sort of use the shotgun method myself. I spray the news about my newest release, DISTRACTING THE DUCHESS in every outlet I possibly can and hope that some of it hits the targets.

And one of things I use is book trailers or bookpeeks, as they are sometimes called. Now I know some authors spend beaucoup de bucks having their trailers made professionally. Since I’m not sure they work, I can’t see investing in one since I’m able to put together my own for under $25. But wait you say–What kind of trailer can you make for that piddling amount? Well, check mine out and you tell me.

Ok, I know the music isn’t too hot. There is a way to download professional music clips, but that requires more money and lots of people, like me, regularly turn the speaker on their computer off. Besides, I’m not related to my father for nothing. He’s been known to pinch a penny till it squeals. But cheesy music notwithstanding, the pictures give a hint at what the book is about. And hopefully sparks some interest, which is all a book trailer is expected to do. And for less than $25, I can afford to have it out there even if it doesn’t sell a single book.

So how did I do it? I’m glad you asked. First I downloaded Photostory3 FREE! This is a very simple program that allows you to put pictures together, create captions to tell the story and generate your own music for the bookpeek. I’m the anti-techno queen. Ask anyone. But Photostory is easy and intuitive. My uber-techie husband tells me that means it’s designed to be used by people who can’t even buy a clue. So even the wishiwasa-geek can do it. Like me.

Where did I get the pictures I hear you ask? Google: royalty free photos. You’ll find dreamstime and istock and a host of other sites where folks offer their photos for a very small fee. Some authors like to take their own pictures, but that requires talent with which I have not been gifted. I have a lovely collection of photos of headless family members if anyone’s interested.

One of the things I’ve noticed about book trailers is that they are sometimes too long and give away the entire story. Before I went looking for pictures, I thought about the elements of my story, trying to pick out the most enticing, of course. Then I wrote 10 phrases that tease my book. There isn’t room for complete sentences without covering the picture. Once I was satisfied with my copy, I went in search of 10 pictures that would fit my phrases. Plan to spend a couple hours. Ten frames will give you a trailer that’s about a minute long, which is long enough.

Then I enlisted my techie husband’s help in saving my finished product as a file type that would be accepted by the video sites. To my sorrow, I can’t get YouTube to like my DUCHESS. That site won’t take the upload, but Veoh and MySpace took it without a blink. Dirty rotten YouTube.

One of the benefits of doing a trailer is that it’s sort of like doing a pitch. We need to be able to tell people what our books are about in extremely short form. I’ve heard some authors browse the photo sites before they even write the story as an exercise in brainstorming. If you’re a visual person, like me, you might find it useful.

Wonder if I can do a whole synopsis on Photostory? Might beat the little sticky notes plastered all over my mirror that I use now. Hmmmm . . .


Sensual Fiction

February 20, 2008

Sometimes, writers end up actually talking to people instead of pecking at their keyboards. I’ve been putting together a workshop on writing sensual fiction. While a good part of the workshop will be devoted to crafting sex scenes that advance the story and reveal character along with body parts, another section of the workshop will deal with writing in a way that engages the senses.

Today at my writing group, we were prompted to write a scene where a sci-fi character who leads a bleak life with little light, little food and virtually no sensory stimulation finds a vial of–of all things!–cinnamon. Here’s my 5 minute sketch:

The smell made her light-headed with its stinging sweetness. She shoved the stopper back in the vial. The essence lingered and she took it in down to her toes. Was that how the poison worked, the intoxicating fragrance tempting the victim into sucking ever more in? She pulled the cork from the vial and held it to her nose. The smell made her soft palate ache, but it was a good kind of ache, somehow. If it killed her, she had to taste it.

She put the stopper to her tongue and fireworks crackled in her mouth. She sank down into the corner of her barren room, drunk on the aroma, wallowing in it.

She didn’t mark the time passing, but she realized the scent was fading. Tears stung her eyes as she secreted the vial in her pocket. She’d never sell it, no matter how hungry she got. It was the finest thing that had ever happened to her. 

That night for the first time in her life, she dreamed in color. Brown-skinned girls balanced thick bundles of long brown sticks wrapped in bright colored shawls and the breeze was the sweet breath of the Spice Islands cutting through the stink of ship’s tar and oakum. 

OK, now it’s your turn. Your character is smelling cinnamon–or anything pungent of your choosing–for the first time. Engage my senses.

I rarely feel the need to hurl a book across the room, but I was sorely tempted last weekend. The book was Nicholas Sparks’ MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE. Now don’t get me wrong. Mr. Sparks is a great writer. His prose is specific and immediate, sometimes lyrical. His characters breathe on their own.

No, my beef with MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE is more organic. It’s about the difference in the way men and women are wired. It’s about what we each see as romantic. He thinks his story ends with a grand romantic gesture. I think it’s the most moronic passive/agressive move of all time. Let me explain (and for those of you who haven’t read MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE and intend to, I’ll warn you–THIS POST IS A SPOILER.)

The premise is charming. A divorced journalist, Theresa, is jogging along the rocky beach on Cape Anne (Massachusett’s other Cape) and finds a corked bottle with a note inside. It’s a letter written by a heartsick man to his dead wife. Since Theresa’s ex cheated on her, she’s intrigued by a man who can love so deeply and so faithfully.

OK. It’s sort of a low-tech play on Sleepless in Seattle, but Sparks has hooked me.

Her editor, who’s a cross between the all-wise Merlin and a fairy-godmother, urges her to use the letter in her column. Through her journalistic connections, Theresa is able to uncover the letter writer’s identity. Garth, a diving instructor who runs his own boat out of Wilmington. She has a couple weeks while her son is visiting his dad, so she goes to find Garth.

And they connect. Their courtship is sweet and hopeful. These are two genuinely nice people and I find myself cheering for them. Of course, they carry baggage with them. He’s guilty over learning to love again. She’s afraid to trust after having been hurt so badly by her ex. Good. These are compelling, meaty issues for them to deal with. But they seem to break through those deep inner conflicts enough to commit to loving each other.

Then things start going south, which I completely understand. As a fiction writer, it is my bounden duty to torture my characters for the delight of my readers and Sparks proceeds to do so. She has a high-powered career in Boston. He owns his own business in Wilmington. How will they be together? This is a outer conflict that’s a no brainer as far as I’m concerned. If they love each other, who cares?

I’ve followed my husband to nine different states. He’s always asked me if it’s ok each time he gets another job offer, but he knows my answer. I love him. I’ll live ANYWHERE with that man. And if ever I make enough money for us to live on, he’s promised to happily retire and live with me as my boy-toy on Maui. Where we are doesn’t signify in the least as long as we’re together.

So Sparks is starting to lose me in the petty bickering he puts Theresa and Garth through. Then finally, Garth send Theresa a package (a message in a bottle saying he’s going to sell his business and move to Boston to be with her) but he has one more thing to do first.

One more stupid, idiotic, passive-agressive, boyish, junior-high gesture. He takes his boat out–later than he should and he knows better. He’s an accomplished sailor. There’s a squall on the horizon, but he thinks he can beat it. He has to sail out far further than usual, so this last letter to his dead wife will make it all the way to Europe–as though he’ll ever know one way or the other if it does or not. And long story short, the boat sinks. The guy drowns needlessly.

At this point, I was ready to consign MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE to the ninth circle of Hell. This is NOT romantic. It’s stupid. The guy had a second chance to build a meaningful life with a woman who loves him and whom he claims to love in return and he literally threw it away.  Theresa is once again cheated on by a man she trusted. I totally DO NOT GET IT!

However, I’m willing to entertain other opinions. Can you explain to me why men seem to need bitter-sweet, (or in this case just plain bitter-stupid) endings to their romances, i.e. THE HORSE WHISPERER and BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY? Isn’t there enough angst in life without dragging it into our escapist fantasies? What about happily ever after is so hard to understand? 

Please, enlighten me.