Today’s Featured Author: Becky Monson

Today I welcome author Becky Monson to my blog. Please enjoy her guest post about the predictability of chick-lit.

Guest Post: It’s Predictable

Every once in a while I get a review of my book that says it was predictable. Um… yah. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t all chick-lit predictable?

Essentially, there’s a formula for chick-lit. It varies from book to book and writer to writer, but it basically stays the same. There’s the heroine/hero, there’s the love interest, there’s the drama, and then there’s the happily ever after.

I wonder in their remarks that it was predictable, were they looking for something unpredictable? Maybe a not-so-happily-ever-after? Let me tell you what would happen if I wrote a book with a not-so-happy ending. Ten percent of my readers would think “huh, that’s different”, and the other ninety percent would throw the book across the room (unless it was on their kindle, and then they would very gently, but sternly, delete it from their files, never to be seen or read again).

I also wonder, if by unpredictable, are they looking for something more realistic? Now, I don’t know about you, but when I read, I’m not looking for “real”. I have enough “real” in my everyday life. When I read, I’m looking for an escape – a way to go on vacation, without actually having to go on vacation. So for me, I like the predictable. I look forward to it. I know that when I open Sophie Kinsella’s newest novel that there will be a happy ending and that makes me want to read it.

After all, isn’t the joy in the journey? How will they get from A to B? How will the love blossom? How will they work through whatever drama will be thrown their way?

So is chick-lit predictable? Yes. And I would like to keep it that way, thank you very much. If you are looking for something less predictable, might I suggest a mystery, or a biography. Perhaps a dystopian novel would do the trick (I’ve thrown a few of those across the room). But let’s keep chick-lit the way it was meant to be: predictably lovely.

Book Description

Spinster Cover - EbookJulia Dorning is a spinster, or at least on the road to becoming one. She has no social life, hates her career, and lives in her parent’s basement with her cat, Charlie.

With the arrival of Jared Moody, the new hire at work, Julia’s mundane life is suddenly turned upside down. Her instant (and totally ridiculous) crush on the new guy causes Julia to finally make some long-overdue changes, in hopes to find a life that includes more than baking and hanging out with Charlie.

But when the biggest and most unexpected change comes, will the new and improved Julia be able to overcome it? Or will she go back to her spinster ways?

About the Author

By day, Becky Monson is a mother to three young children, and a wife. By night, she escapes with reading books and writing. In her debut novel, Becky uses humor and true-life experiences to bring her characters to life. She loves all things chick-lit (movies, books, etc.), and wishes she had a British accent. She has recently given up Diet Coke for the fiftieth time and is hopeful this time will last… but it probably won’t.

Find out more about Becky on her website or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

You can buy Thirty-two Going on Spinster on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or from the Kobo store.

 

Can your story idea be original?

Two weeks ago, I wrote some ideas on how to brainstorm story ideas. There are so many plots that have already been done that it sometimes is hard to come up with something new and unique. While yes, your story may be original with its characters, but many times the story itself has been told before.

Some people say that there are no new stories. That everything that comes out is just a rehashed version of other stories, and if you look at the movie industry with all of its “remakes” of older movies it would be easy to conclude this is true.

In many stories, the originality doesn’t come for the actual story but from the tone of the story or the characters involved. If you can create unique characters, an “old” storyline can be brought to new life.

I read an interesting blog by author Melissa Donovan on original ideas. She said that although ideas, plots and characters may already exist in someone else’s story, it isn’t so much coming up with something new. It is a matter of using your imagination to take old concepts and put them together in new ways. She gave this example that I just love.

To test her theory, see if you can guess the following famous story:

A young orphan who is being raised by his aunt and uncle receives a mysterious message from a stranger, which leads him on a series of great adventures. Early on, he must receive training to learn skills that are seemingly superhuman. Along the way, he befriends loyal helpers, specifically a guy and a gal who end up falling for each other. Our young hero is also helped by a number of non-human creatures. His adventures lead him to a dark and evil villain who is terrorizing everyone and everything that our hero knows and loves — the same villain who killed his parents.

If you guessed that this synopsis outlines Harry Potter, then you guessed right. However, if you guessed that it was Star Wars, you’re also right.

See, isn’t that a great example. I for one first thought of Harry Potter and was amazed to see it is the same plot for the original Star Wars series. Melissa’s test shows that two stories can have many similarities – basic plot structure and character relationships – but be totally different stories when executed by different authors.

Now, I am not suggesting you look to other books or movies for your story ideas. While you can get inspired by these stories, you want to make sure you don’t copy the ideas of others. Do not think that a few changes to the plot or characters will make it your own. You need to figure a way to put your own spin, your own uniqueness onto the story line rather than use someone else’s.

So are original storylines out there? Well, maybe not but you can certainly come up with something new, unexpected or thrilling just the same.

This was the third installment in a three-part series on story ideas. Click here to read the first and second installments.

Fixing our “painted” kitchen counters (remodel follow up)

Last March, we remodeled our kitchen by putting in a new sink and painted our counter tops for under $600. About 9 months later, I noticed a few spots here and there where the paint had worn off and exposed the original off-white kitchen counters.

Area by the stove

Area by the stove

At first, there were just a few spots next to the stove (a high-use area) and by the sink (an area that is often wet). It was these two areas that I decided needed to be redone after the spots near the stove began to grow each time we wiped the counter.

I did the area by the stove first. As I applied the black primer from the Giani granite paint kit to the exposed areas, I noticed more and more little worn marks. I didn’t want to repaint the whole counter (even though it is a small section) so I just dabbed on some back primer on the exposed areas.

Repaired area by stove

Repaired area by stove

It took me a little while to remember exactly how I sponged on the other colors. I know the first color wasn’t done precisely the same as before, but I am hoping now that I have added the others and layered on the colors that it will look okay. Actually, I am sure it will be unnoticeable to anyone else, but I may always see any flaw. I noticed this was true last time.

I was extra careful about putting on the clear coat and made sure there was plenty of coverage. They recommend two coats, but I went ahead and added a third.

The sink area before repairs

The sink area before repairs

I did the sink a few days later. You can’t use the counter while painting, and the clear coat needs to set for a minimum of 24 hours before use, so I didn’t want to have two sections of the counter out of commission at the same time.

After shot of section by sink

After shot of section by sink

By the time I did this second section, I felt like a pro. It was easy to blend the new areas in with the old. I don’t think in either area, you can tell that I “fixed” the counter at all.

While I am disappointed that we didn’t make it through a whole year (or much longer) before having to fix the counters, I must say I do enjoy how they turned out. I don’t know if the problems that developed are due to the product or to “user-error”. I did have a lot of counter tops to cover the first time, and the clear coat was the hardest thing to do. There is certainly a possibility that I didn’t apply it well enough. And of course since I am not using their brand cleaner, I guess my cleaner could have worn away the clear coat.

Would I still recommend this paint for your counters? Yes, I do. It was an inexpensive fix to spruce up our kitchen, and the repairs to the paint were easy.

Today’s Featured Author: Hannah Fielding

Today I welcome author Hannah Fielding to my blog to discuss her latest book, The Echoes of Love.

Interview

Tell us a bit about yourself.  Where were you born and where do you call home?

My memories of my childhood in Egypt could be those of a fairytale: sunshine, azure skies and the ever-changing colours of the cobalt-blue Mediterranean sea. I grew up in Alexandria, the jewel of Egypt’s cities, in a family of pashas and ambassadors who had been part of the exiled King Farouk’s court. I was carefully cosseted in a strict but close-knit, loving family home, surrounded by lush gardens and fragrant orchards.

As a young woman, I travelled extensively, before meeting my husband: it was love at first sight, just like in the romance books that were my constant companions. He brought me to his large Georgian rectory in Kent, England, surrounded by grounds and forests. We still live there for part of the year, and for the rest of our time we go to our renovated farmhouse in the south of France, which has breathtaking views of the ocean.

What or who inspired you to start writing?

My family, without a doubt. I grew up surrounded by books – my parents had them in each room of our house, and I was read to and encouraged to look at books myself from an early age. Plus, both my father and grandmother were published writers, so I had writing in my blood. Add to that a governess with a keen imagination and a determination to sow the storytelling seed in me, and it’s not hard to see why the dream of becoming a writer began to materialise in childhood!

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I think it was the day I first held my debut novel, Burning Embers, in my hands. It was the culmination of so many years of writing and dreaming, a special moment indeed.

But holding a book is passive, and the truth is that being a writer is active – so since that moment, every day that I think about a plot of character, or plan a chapter, or sit and craft a paragraph, I tell myself, ‘This is it. I am a writer.’ And that lights up such a warm glow inside.

Have you started your next project? If so, can you share a little bit about your next book?

I am currently editing for publication the first book in a fiery trilogy set in Andalucia, Spain, spanning three generations of a Spanish/English family, from 1950 to the present day. It is the passionate story of the de Falla family, some of whom have roots in England, and their interaction with the gypsies. A tale of love, treachery, deceit and revenge a rumbling volcano, set against the fierce and blazing Spanish land, which is governed by savage passions and cruel rules.

Greece is also on the map for a new Hannah Fielding romantic novel. I am now in the process of researching and planning a very dramatic and steamy love story that takes place on one of the many Greek Islands. I chose Greece because I know that captivating country and its people well – I have good Greek friends. I bought my wedding dress in Athens and my husband and I honeymooned on Rhodes Island. Greek mythology was part of the literature course I read at university and Greece is not far from Alexandria, where I grew up.

Do you write full-time? What is your work day like?

I generally do write each week day. I have a very rigid routine which has served well. Having researched my facts thoroughly, I plan my novel down to the smallest detail. Planning ahead, I have found, makes the writing so much easier and therefore so much more enjoyable. Then, when I am ready to begin writing, I settle into a regular routine – writing each morning and editing the previous day’s work, taking a break for lunch, writing a little more and then going for a walk somewhere inspirational, like the woods or the beach. Routine, I think, is key – otherwise life gets in the way.

Is there a specific place in the house (or out of the house) that you like to write?

In England I write in our wood-panelled library surrounded by all my favourite books, and in France I write in my bedroom. Both places have wonderful views over the gardens – and in France I love the backdrop of the azure Mediterranean and sky.

Please tell us about your current release.

The Echoes of Love pbThe Echoes of Love is a touching love story that unfolds at the turn of the new millennium and is set in beautiful, romantic Italy: Venice, Tuscany and Sardinia. It is the tale of two people who have been badly hurt by life and by love and who are trying to love again, but are still haunted by the echoes of those tragedies.

Venetia Aston-Montagu has escaped to Venice to work in her godmother’s architectural practice, putting a lost love behind her. For the past ten years she has built a fortress around her heart, only to find the walls tumbling down one night of the Carnival when she is rescued from masked assailants by an enigmatic stranger, Paolo Barone.

Drawn to the powerfully seductive Paolo, despite warnings of his Don Juan reputation and rumours that he keeps a mistress, Venetia can’t help being caught up in the smouldering passion that ignites between them.

When she finds herself assigned to a project at his magnificent home deep in the Tuscan countryside, Venetia must not only contend with a beautiful young rival, but also come face to face with the dark shadows of Paolo’s past that threaten to come between them.

Can Venetia trust that love will triumph, even over her own demons? Or will Paolo’s carefully guarded, devastating secret tear them apart forever?

What inspired you to write this book?

I first visited Venice as a young child. Then, as now, I was wide-eyed and enchanted by the beauty of the city. I distinctly remember standing in the main square, the Piazza St Marco, gazing up at the stunning architecture of Saint Mark’s Basilica, and feeling I had somehow entered another world – a fairytale world. Then I looked down, at the square itself, which was overrun by hordes of pigeons. There was nothing beautiful about those birds. They were quite spoiling the place. And it struck me then that Venice is a city of two faces: that which the tourists flock to admire, that makes the city the capital of romance, that breathes new life into the imagination and leaves a permanent, inspirational impression. And the other side, the darker side, that which is concealed in what Erica Jong called ‘the city of mirrors, the city of mirages’.

When I returned to the city as an adult, I became quite fascinated by the concept of Venice – what it means to be Venetian; what the city really is beneath the layers of history and grandeur and legend.  Frida Giannini wrote, ‘Venice never quite seems real, but rather an ornate film set suspended on the water.’ I understand this quote – there is something fairytale about the place, and with that comes some reluctance, perhaps, to see the realism beyond.

Venice so captured my imagination that I knew some day I would write a romance novel set in this most elegant and fascinating of cities. But it had to be the right story to fit the place. For me, that meant a story that reflected the two faces of Venice – the mask she wears, and the true form beneath.

What kind of research did you do for this book?

All sorts! Once I have an idea I’m happy with, I ground it in reality by researching carefully the setting for the book – the culture, the era, the fashion, the cuisine, the buildings and so on. I read, I watch movies, I visit museums, I cook national cuisines, I listen to music and I travel to the settings. I very much enjoy that element of the writing process, particularly when I am able to convince my husband that a trip abroad is essential! We had a wonderful long weekend in Venice while I researched The Echoes of Love.

Did you base any of your characters on real people?

Sometimes a person will spark some inspiration in me. Paolo, my hero in The Echoes of Love, first wandered into my mind when I met an Italian lawyer who was the consummate gentleman, but somewhat tortured beneath the façade, I sensed; and Venetia, the heroine, looks like a lady I once saw in a Venice street. Also, in each of my books you find some kind of wise older character who acts as a guide for the heroine – this is in homage to my childhood governess, Zula, of whom I was so fond.

That said, my books are purely fictional. The stories are of my imagination, not based on my own life or those of people I know. I let my mind take flight.

Do you have an all time favorite book?

The Far Pavilions by MM Kaye. I first read it in the 1980s, and since then my copy has been well-thumbed. MM Kaye has been an inspiration to me in my writing, because, like me, she was a traveller at heart and she wrote wonderfully descriptive stories set in exotic locations that really transport you to far-off lands. The Far Pavilions is like an Indian Gone With the Wind – epic, moving, romantic, sweeping. If you’d like to know more about this writer and book, you can read a blog post I wrote on the subject at http://www.hannahfielding.net/?p=1523.

Tell us a random fact about you that we never would have guessed.

I’m something of a cook; in particular, I like using home-grown ingredients and, when in France, those I source from the wonderful local markets. I love to entertain family and friends; hosting dinner parties is a lot of work but immensely rewarding. Once a month I have a ‘Discover a Country’s Cuisine Night’ for family or friends, when I cook a three-course meal featuring the specialty of a given country. It’s a great way for me to experience the foods my characters eat in my novels!

About the Author

Portrait of Hannah Fielding and photos of where she writes.Hannah Fielding is a novelist, a dreamer, a traveller, a mother, a wife and an incurable romantic. The seeds for her writing career were sown in early childhood, spent in Egypt, when she came to an agreement with her governess Zula: for each fairy story Zula told, Hannah would invent and relate one of her own. Years later – following a degree in French literature, several years of travelling in Europe, falling in love with an Englishman, the arrival of two beautiful children and a career in property development – Hannah decided after so many years of yearning to write that the time was now. Today, she lives the dream: she writes full time, splitting her time between her homes in Kent, England, and the South of France, where she dreams up romances overlooking breathtaking views of the Mediterranean.

Her first novel, Burning Embers, is a vivid, evocative love story set against the backdrop of tempestuous and wild Kenya of the 1970s, reviewed by one newspaper as ‘romance like Hollywood used to make’. Her new novel, The Echoes of Love, is a story of passion, betrayal and intrigue set in the romantic and mysterious city of Venice and the beautiful landscape of Tuscany.

You can find out mor about Hannah on her website or you can follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

Check out the book trailer for The Echoes of Love which can be purchased on Amazon UK, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Making sure your story idea is sound

You have a brilliant idea for a story. You can imagine the main character and even the opening scene…but when you sit down to write, you realize that is all you have. You don’t have a complete story with a structured plot and a satisfying ending. All you have is this great story idea.

Last week, I wrote about the different way to come up with story ideas. But it is one thing to come up with a story idea and quite another to make it into an actual novel. You need to make sure your idea is developed enough and that there is adequate conflict to sustain your story.

Now, I don’t typically write short stories, and I don’t write novellas. I write novels that are over 80,000 words. That means there needs to be quite a bit of a story to make it carry through all those pages. You can certainly brainstorm other ideas for things to happen in your novel, but you don’t want to fill the story with “fluff” just to meet a certain number of words. Every scene in your story needs to advance the plot.

Now technically any idea can be turned into a novel or short story, depending on how you handle it. But also remember that some ideas are easier to turn into a whole novel than others and a story idea that works for someone else, may not work for you.

So you have your story idea, what do you need to do next?

One solution is to write out a basic plot outline (even if you aren’t an outline type of person). Consider subplots that can be interwoven into the story and add those to your outline. As you do this, look for holes in your story. Keep asking yourself why – why is this happening, why is this character doing this or that? As you answer these questions and fill in the holes of your story, you will be able to see if you can develop a strong story or if your story plot just isn’t strong enough.

The easiest way to have a strong story is to develop a good protagonist. Do they have a past? What drives them to act in your story? The more details and depth you have to your protagonist, the better. Of course, a good, well developed antagonist is equally important. Remember people don’t stand in your way for no reason and hardly ever is anyone just evil without a reason.

It also helps if your plot lends itself to complications. As I said before you don’t want to add “fluff” to your novel but some plots are more naturally open to twists and turns than others.

There is no easy test to see if your story idea has what it takes to be developed into a full-length novel. You can look at the plot and the main characters and still not know. Sometimes you just have to start writing (or seriously outline for you “plotters” out there) to see what you have.

This is the second in a three-part series. Next week: Coming up with an original idea.