Tag Archives: secrets

Themes and Memes

Thea Devine today, watching as the snow stops, the sun comes out, and ready to jump-start some new ideas. I created this list for a workshop I gave at several Chapters (including CTRWA), and I’ve had a few new thoughts since I distributed the handouts.

Maybe you’re looking for a theme, an idea, a spine, some motivating mojo. Maybe you need a break from the WIP and want to write something just for the change (like, in my case, Not Sex). Maybe you want to play around with some bigger ideas and plot points. Maybe this list will help.

Family, faith, community: I think these themes the most important today
Anything goes vs old time values
Hedonism vs. religious stricture
Good vs evil
Something profound – like failure – shapes and changes a protagonist’s life
Loss of friends, community, job: after adversity, struggling to make a new life
Impact of separation, divorce, death
The love that could not be
Rebellion and where that leads the protagonist
Old boyfriend returns and upends everything
Consequences of sexual attack (Steubenville)
Repercussions of cavalier sex
Rags to riches: heroine spirals down and out and climbs back to a better life
An unseen lurking threat
Haunting — by ghosts real or imagined, conscience compels actions
Objects of desire: the key to a crisis in the present is in the mystery code located somewhere exotic that will save the country, the world, the planet (I love this theme)
The government is out to get us
The government is out to save us
Child in jeopardy
Impact of random violence (wrong place wrong time)
Controlled threat (stalker, serial killer)
Apocalyptic event changes life as we know it
Hero/ine against all powerful cabals that seek to dominate everything

And then …
Peripheral characters tell hitherto unknown story of a historical figure of real person –
The Other Boleyn Sister, the Tsarina’s Daughter, The Paris Wife
Ongoing characters reader falls in love with: Stephanie Plum, eg.
Exotic locations in exotic times: Wilbur Smith and Barbara Michaels, ca 1920’s Egypt; Daisy Dalrymple mysteries (1930s)
Wounded hero (like Jesse Stone) solves small town mysteries
Impact of major historical event (9/11, Columbine, Newtown)
Beloved fictional characters — like Mr & Mrs Darcy solving crimes; Jane Austen parsing out mysteries etc.
Boomer characters — the Covington novels
“clubs” — book, knitting, quilt. Jane Austen etc.
Historical mysteries — Alienist, Dante Club, Anatomy of Deception

Need some motive power? characters could be searching for family, a murderer, a lost sibling, assets, heirs, vengeance, treasure, lost love, an abandoned child, a new life, another chance.

Or they could be running from a murder charge, an ex-spouse, a stalker, toxic relationships, their childhoods, the past, responsibility, secrets (see below).

Or they could vanish. People leave for any number of reasons: they committed an opportunistic crime, were in an accident, were kidnapped, just took off, eloped, escaped an abusive situation, were running from the law, were seeking to start over, committed suicide

Maybe someone’s hiding something: someone’s secretly …

An alcoholic
An Exhibitionist
A pill addict/drug addict
A gambler
A shoplifter
An extortionist
An embezzler
Bulimic
Covets her sister’s husband
Endures physical or emotional abuse in a loveless marriage
Did bad things out of jealousy and never got caught
Got pregnant by seducing a man who resembled her husband who couldn’t have children and passed it off as his
Has an irresistible impulse to kill
Is really a bad girl when family and friends think is so good
Did something bad just to see if she could get away with it
Had a secret baby she gave away
Thought she was adopted; finds she was her mother’s natural illegitimate child

That’s it, guys. What do you think? Any ideas to add to the mix? I’d love to hear them.

Thea Devine is working on her next erotic contemporary romance — and pondering a handful of other ideas.

What John Said

I’m going to tell you what John said. John is the calm waters next to my endlessly churning hurricane.. John is orderly, logical and precise. I am way on the opposite side of that. So John keeps me sane during these crazy publishing times.

Arguably, every time in publishing has been a little crazy, so this is one thing John said to me when I was suffering my huge writer’s block year. He said, books get written one page at time (a journey of a thousand words?). One page at a time. If I didn’t write that one page, there wouldn’t be a page 2,3 or even page three hundred.

That was very comforting. I mean, who can’t write one page, even if it’s gibberish. But you know this writing secret – whatever you write, it’s not gibberish and it may be the start something wonderful at some point.

Or it may not. But putting words on paper is so satisfying in and of itself that it’s worth galvanizing yourself to write that one page even when you think the water’s muddy and the well is dry.

And, as it turns out, the well is never dry. The creative waters may scrape the rocks at times, but — as John said when I was reluctant to use an idea in my current WIP that I was saving for another book — there’s always another idea. Seriously. He said he’d rarely seen me run out of ideas.

Really. There IS always another idea. Aren’t our antennae always out, searching for the snippet of conversation that could be a head-snapping opening line, the thing in the news from which we can invent a high concept novel, the personal experience we can spin into an inspirational romance?

Aren’t you talking to people everywhere, listening to conversations, asking questions, reading everything, studying your husband who has had your number all the years you’ve been married?

Aren’t you trying really hard to fit a plot around the fire at the pharmacy? Are you writing everything down?

If you had to plot in 100 page chunks? That’s daunting. One page — focusing on what the reader needs to know? No problem. Only that and nothing more. Okay, got it done. Oh wait, you have to keep going — you can’t stop there. You seeded the first page with all kinds of things you need to carry forward. Keep going — page two and three, four, five … and then — maybe — the magic starts to happen.

Or not. But you’ve got a nugget you can save for another day, another plot, another WIP.
Remember what John said: you write it one page at a time, and there IS always another idea.

Thea Devine really loves John. She’s working on her next erotic contemporary romance.

What Lies Beneath

Thea Devine today, thinking about families and secrets. One of my cousins passed away suddenly and very recently.  I didn’t really know her until we reconnected as adults: her family had moved away years before. As an adult, she became the one in the family who always knew what was going on and what everyone was doing, where and when,  She’d worked in finance, she was involved in local politics, and she was well-loved by those who knew her.  She was pragmatic, empathetic, a great listener, a wonderful friend, and a very very dear person.

Her sister sent me, and other cousins, an Hermes scarf in its original box, mine with a Revolutionary War motif as a momento.  It was rather a puzzling thing.  The cousin I knew just wasn’t an Hermes scarf type of person.  Another cousin and I discussed it quite a bit — what to do with these obviously expensive and highly decorative designer scarves, and why the sister had chosen them as something for us to remember our deceased cousin by.

Long story short:  at the memorial service, it was one of things most talked about by her friends and family —  our cousin’s well-known love of scarves and how she collected and wore them as her signature accessory.  And that too seemed startling and totally out of sync with the woman I knew.

But it made me think about it in terms of the characters we create.  What lies under the skin that we don’t initially know, that we discover later on to have major impact on the story (or a life)?  A man who resented his late mother’s influence on his father, always feeling she’d held him back and that his father had resented it, discovers his father actually needed her plain practical common sense to keep him grounded.

Because the hero had discovered in his father’s bedroom a drawer full of his mother’s things, redolent with her scent, including her wedding gown that his father kept all these years.  And why?  Because despite of all their fights, disagreements,  and the-on-the-surface disdain for each other, his father really loved his mother deeply, a conclusion that turns the hero’s world upside down.

Another scenario:  a rich playgirl takes a local country girl into her glamorous hedonistic set, ostensibly because local girl had saved her from drowning. As the heroine is more and more both seduced and corrupted by the playgirl’s lifestyle, she never considers there might be something else propelling all that generous gratitude.

What subtle clues do you leave?  The playgirl’s gratitude is beginning to become too extensive and intrusive, leaving the heroine no choice  but to accept all that she offers.  How could she say no?  And yet –

The heroine starts to feel wary when she’s convinced to leave an internship and become the playgirl’s personal assistant.  How close can they get?  What ‘s really going on?

What does the playgirl really want from someone she would normally consider a “nothing” in her world?   Or does the playgirl have plans for the heroine?  The heroine is in love with the man she wants, and the playgirl will corrupt her to the point that that she will be rejected by him. If that doesn’t succeed, the playgirl has a more drastic plan.

What secrets are your characters hoarding, like silk scarves in a dresser, to be taken out judiciously and worn discreetly, and eventually coming  to light to reveal what at first seemed to be hidden?

What was there about your character all along that we never consciously saw, never considered?  What indeed lies beneath?

Do you have someone in your life or fiction who surprised you by an aspect of their personality about which you had no idea?  Are you the one with secrets under the skin?

Hermes, scarf, writing, craft, clues protagonists, characters, clues, personality

I Was A Freelance Manuscript Reader

Thea Devine here, with a true confession:  Long ago in a publishing landscape far away (and over the course of the next twenty-five years),  I read manuscripts for several mass market publishing houses, back before electronic transmissions, back when we were writing 500 pp. books on real paper.

I read historical and contemporary romance, romantic suspense, women’s fiction, mysteries, sagas, fiction for reprint, and non-fiction, agented and slush.  And I assure you every proposal was looked at, no matter what form it arrived in — single spaced, cursive font, unchaptered, block paragraphs, handwritten, buried in popcorn. strangled in rubber bands.

And there were always manuscripts;  just the number of conferences across the country on a weekly basis assured that.  But after National — the deluge.

During those years, I never had an editor tell me what to look for, what they didn’t want to see.  Nothing was culled before it landed on the reader’s shelf.

But really — it was always about the story.  Those grab and go opening pages still grab editors..  And they really do know it when they see it..

But what the editor told me when she hired me was, don’t be afraid to be wrong.

Think about that.   Don’t be afraid to be wrong.  Because what if you passed up another Gone With The Wind or DaVInci Code?  What if the manuscript you loved was shot down and rejected by the editor and then became a best-seller for another publisher? (It happened).  What  if … in the fragile world of publishing as it was then, and is now, so dependent on the subjective opinion of reader and editor.

Don’t be afraid of rejection.  Because the editor could be wrong.  And if the editor could be wrong, then a rejection doesn’t t mean you wrote the worst book ever.  It just means this book didn’t move the editor or it didn’t fit into a particular marketing slot.

That still holds true.  The market itself will judge a book, in this new publishing milieu, if not an editor in a publishing house.   All you can do is write.

Some writing secrets from the reader:

It’s the story. It’s always been the story.  It’s how you get into the story.  Get your characters moving.  Make sure the inciting incident is critical, grabs the reader, and requires your characters to do something.

Conflict.   Your protagonists can’t want the same things (his family stole her family’s business;  she wants to get it back; he wants to give it back), even though they can want the same thing (an object of desire — like the Grail in Indy 3).

Pile it on.  The more obstructions, obstacles and problems you present your protagonists, the harder it will be for an editor — or reader — to put your manuscript down.

Grammar counts.  Sorry.  No dangling participles.  Subject and verb must agree.  A line edit takes forever on a manuscript that needs a lot of work.

Motivation.  Why exactly did your heroine go into the burning mine when everyone specifically cautioned her not to?  There are always reasons why your characters do what they do. Make sure your reader buys into it.

Make sure the ending holds up after all the build up.

Have you ever been rejected?  How did you handle it?  Do you think a publisher using readers is a good thing or bad?

The unlocked secret of a “smellavision.”

Blessings to all on this rainy spring day. My lilacs have begun to bloom and the sweet scent permeates the air as I sit on my front porch, a balmy mix of moist earth and new life filling my senses. The smell of lilacs instantly brings me back to my youth, when the blossoming shrub outside our kitchen door made the beginning of May a time when my mother’s spirits seemed unusually high. She loved her lilac bush and went to great lengths to make sure she took advantage of the lavender blossoms by clipping them and placing them in every room of the house. Those few weeks in May were bittersweet, passing by much too quickly.

So what do lilacs have to do with writing, you ask? Today, I’d like to talk about using your senses when writing to engage readers. We all love to describe how things look and feel, but what about sound, taste, and smell. Of all of these, I think the sense of smell is highly underrated. Perhaps because it is so difficult to describe how things smell, and do it in a unique way. We easily revert to clichéd phrases like our hero smelling “musky” or “woods-like”. Finding new ways to describe scents is challenging, but that’s what makes for a fresh voice in writing.

Smells are powerful and can bring rise to emotions we didn’t even know we had. I call them “smellavisions.” You know, the image that comes to mind when you think of chocolate chip cookies straight out of the oven? We all have those “scent triggers” that can bring forth a memory, a feeling, or an image. A well-placed and vivid “scent” word or phrase can also add depth to your character by bringing their memories and emotions to the surface.

Fans of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series will probably never forget Jamie Frasier’s violent response to the scent of lavender, a residual effect after having been tortured by the sick and villainous Black Jack Randall who apparently doused himself in lavender water, not uncommon in the eighteenth century. But Jamie’s visceral response is powerful and evokes extreme emotions even from readers. Certain scents, described vividly and accompanied by powerful verbs can bring your reader straight to the heart of your character’s experience.

Take this line from HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES.The crack of gunfire exploded in the air…once…twice…three times. I flinched with each pop, the smell of gunpowder thick in the warm mist raining down over the cemetery. What emotion does this evoke? Does it paint a clear picture and put you right into the character’sexperience? It’s the first line of the book and you already know so much about what’s happening based on this one vivid “smellavision.” Use “smell” words to create a mood, set a scene, or evoke a certain emotion from your character.

Today’s unlocked secret: As writers, we have the power to create an experience that readers will remember. But in order to do this we must use all the senses, use them wisely, and use them to their fullest effect by pairing them with vivid descriptors and powerful verbs.

Can you think of a paricular “smellavision” that stands out in your mind from a favorite book? How do you describe smells?

Heroes We Love To Love

Thea Devine here, ruminating this week about heroes we love to love, the ones who drive us nuts, but we know we can’t have a fabulous story without them.   This is my list, in no particular order:

 The Good Guy: 

Everyone loves the good guy. He’s the renaissance man who’s just been waiting for the woman of his dreams.  Healthy childhood, no wounds, handsome, successful, willing to cook, change diapers, the best best friend when you need someone to listen.  He’s the one you lean on when your life is turned upside down;  he’s steady, gives fantastic advice, is decisive, funny, and loves his mother (always a prime point for a mother of sons).   And he’ll always fall for the woman who is in critical chaos because he’s the problem solver, the rock, the calm center, and he’ll always be the thing a woman wants most:  an anchor.

 The Bad Boy

He’s experienced, and knowing.  He’s that guy in high school that had that gleam in his eye.  He’d take one look at you, and he knew everything:  who you were, how far you’d go,  and where he’d like to take you.  He’s magnetic, a little rough, a little rakish, a leader without really wanting to lead;  strong, decisive, probably doesn’t like to talk much, especially about his feelings — but oh, man, does he ever have them.    He loves women, but no woman is ever going to tame him.  And when he falls, he takes a nosedive to eternity.

 The Wounded Hero

He’s the guy who suffers  There’s some great trauma in his past, or something in his present, something with his parents, another woman, his best friend, the war:  he is psychically damaged and  he’s not going to let any woman into his life because he can’t give her what she needs.  He’s too busy tending that crippled inner self to give anything of himself to anyone.   He doesn’t want to feel,  and he habitually picks fights, so he can chase everyone away.  He can’t share his life, can’t allow the heroine to assume his stain, his burden, his guilt.  She, of course, won’t rest till she does, so while he just wants to be off on some island, alone, nursing that part of himself that needs to be made whole, guess who’s right in the rowboat behind him?

 The Unobtainable Man

This guy seems not to like women at all.  No one gets to him.  It’s like battering at a wall.   He’s cool, logical, seemingly without emotions.  He never lets you see him sweat. He’s an island unto himself.  He’s got all the answers.  And he always reveals them first so he can cover his behind.   He doesn’t need anyone, which he won’t hesitate to tell you..  But of course, he’s the one who needs someone most of all. The heroine must storm the fortress, and if she can find his tender spot, he is hers forever.

Mr. Unflappable

Nothing rattles this guy.  He can be in the  middle of a war and crack a joke.  Nothing scares him; there’s no problem he can’t solve, no situation he can’t get out of.  He’s walking the line, but he’s got such a sense of humor and irony, nothing jolts him. He doesn’t take anything seriously, and he takes love too lightly. Forget about prising up his past. Some days the heroine can’t even get him to commit to saying hello.   He’s a pretty happy guy, probably real successful, and not in a button down kind of job;   but somewhere along the line, someone probably hurt him, so his deal is, don’t get too close too soon.  And of course, the heroine can’t get too close soon enough.

The Scoundrel

He was badly hurt by a woman sometime in his murky past.  So he loves ‘em and leaves ‘em, uses ‘em and loses ‘em.  Takes out his anger on all womenkind, especially the heroine, and particularly because she gets to him and he doesn’t want to be gotten to.  But she’s under his skin and before you know it, he’s protecting, defending and loving her, protesting his misogynist nature to the very end.

 The Outlaw

He’s been convicted of murder or some other heinous crime that he didn’t really commit.  But they’re after him.  He’s a loner.  He may be on the run. but he’s always got a reason, and it’s always plausible as hell.   He’s going to protect the woman he loves by NOT letting her into his life, and by reappearing in hers often enough to drive them both crazy.  And she can’t stay away.  Truth to tell, he doesn’t want her to, but he’ll never tell her that either.  It’s always her choice, and she believes in him in spite of all evidence to the contrary.  She’s so loyal, she’ll go on run with him, or be the first one to ferret out the clues that will vindicate him.   She knows what she’s letting herself in for — and she always believes he is worth the effort, because in the end, she will make him vulnerable — and hers.

And, isn’t that the ending we strive for, in fiction, and in life?

 

So who’s the hero you love to love? Any of these guys sound like your husband/boyfriend/significant other?  (My theory is all romance authors are married to the same man — and he’s usually an engineer or should be one.)  Any of them sound like anyone you know?

Thea Devine’s latest book, The Darkest Heart, was a June 2011 release from Gallery Books.  She’s currently at work on a sequel.

The Family Memoir

Several years ago, my cousin’s youngest daughter got married in a fabulous setting deep in the heart of PA — it was a living Andrew Wyeth painting:  a sparkling pond, rolling green hills, deep blue sky, old red barn silhouetted against the blaring hot sun, a rustic stable opened to provide a dance floor and seating where you could take the barbeque that was served on the adjacent side porch.  A little stone house where the bride had the privacy to dress.  A hundred friends and family, kids running around, playing ball, playing games.  People rocking out on the lawn.

And there I was, sitting with my husband, thinking:  this perfect day, when, maybe, someone is found dead in the pond;  or maybe that little girl in the yellow dress disappears and someone doesn’t want the mother-in-law to write the family memoir.

Honestly, it was the best wedding ever.

And subsequently, a couple of years later, my cousin asked if I’d like to read those memoirs, with his mother-in-law’s permission.  This was such a privilege.  The author is in her 90‘s;  she wrote about 28 single spaced pages.  Her voice, dry, humorous, pragmatic, came through so clearly. And there was so much more under the surface that I wanted to know. And I wanted so much more of HER — her reactions, her responses, her true feelings.

What a gift to her family, that she’s able to translate her memories into words.  I told her all this when I wrote back, and that I hoped she’d continue to add to the memoir, more of her, more of what she experienced, what she felt. I had particularly strong feelings about it because now that my parents, and aunts and uncles are gone, there’s no one left who knows all my family history.  And no one who had the wont, the patience or the will to write it all down. They were children of immigrants who’d had unspeakable childhoods and just didn’t want to talk about it — ever. So a first wife we were never aware of, a brother whom no one knew was really the child of a first marriage, a runaway child, — all nebulous stories dredged up through cryptic statements over the years which told no more than that.

I was struck forcibly that I knew nothing, really, about our grandparents in either family.  We do have my maternal grandfather’s immigration papers from which we make inferences and piece together some of the story,  but dad’s history remains opaque: I know his mother came from Romania to join her sister in America.  She was the second wife of a man with two children. Her husband died very early in the marriage after she bore him four children.  She never wanted to talk about any of it.

My sons know everything about their dad and me, but I never thought, maybe never maybe could envision a time when my parents wouldn’t be there to answer questions.  And for some reason, one never asked.  Later, when I got curious, my mom didn’t much want to talk about it either.  Or claimed she didn’t remember.

I now have a bound booklet of those memoirs, complete with pictures.  How lucky my cousin is that his mother-in-law decided to talk about her life in a concrete and lasting way.  It inspired him.  He now wants to aggregate as much of our maternal family’s history as possible.  I’m happy he wants to take on that pleasurable task and I‘m hoping he can fill in some of the blanks.

But better than that, it leaves me (selfishly) free to contemplate the fictional problem of who was killed at the wedding and the even greater pleasure of writing it..

As you can see, I’m obsessed by my family’s history now. What about your family?  Is someone writing a history? Researching the family tree?  Have you ever been at an event where you were plotting fictional murders while talking to your husband’s boss or a relative you hadn’t seen in years?

Thea Devine is the author whose books defined erotic historical romance for which she was honored as a Romance Pioneer by Romantic Times.  The Darkest Heart, Pocket/Gallery, June 2011 is her 25th novel. Visit http://www.theadevine.com for excerpt and video.