Saturday, July 23, 2016

What Makes a Novel Memorable by Victoria Chatham

Our topic for July is: What makes a novel memorable? For me, it is the characters every time, no matter what the genre.
I have my preferences, of course. I mostly read historical romance, and then western romance (historical or contemporary) and anything and everything in between. I rarely read science fiction, fantasy or inspirational. Not that I haven’t, those categories just don’t come high on my list of preferred reading
My most favorite and memorable historical characters are from Georgette Heyer’s Regency romance Frederica. Freddie is such a managing female! And really, any heroine in any genre has to be a bit out there for me to be engaged. I have read many books where the heroine has been TSTL, too stupid to live, and consequently I have consigned her and the book she appears in back to the shelf.
Heroines in any genre or era need to have some element of courage in their character. Whether it is standing up to their families or the mores of their society, the more courage shown by a character in standing up for what they want or what they believe in, keeps me reading. Wimpy heroines need not apply.  
Snappy heroines that immediately come to mind, after Frederica, are any of Jane Austen’s leading ladies. Okay, I’m probably giving my age away here but I don’t mind. Of more recent years there’s been Janet Evanovitch’s Stephanie Plum and Tami Hoag’s Elena Estes, also Lisbeth Salander from Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
My heroes have to be strong, too, but they can be strong in different ways. Lord Alverstoke, Frederica’s nemesis, is everything a Regency hero should be. Something of the bad boy in his youth, but an athletic, muscular figure whose place in society gives him a great sense of self within the propriety of his era. That he gradually falls in love with the aforesaid managing female makes for a delightful character arc as his views change.
Another of Tami Hoag’s characters, Lucky Doucet, is almost an anti-hero. A war-damaged vet,  Lucky retreats to the dark bayous of Louisiana. Even though he’s chosen to live this way, he still manages to help people where and when he can. Love leads to Lucky making his way in the world beyond the bayou with an unexpected and satisfying twist at the end of the tale.
Though they are two very different types of character, the one suave and elegant and the other very physical and damaged, they both held my attention. The more empathy I can feel for the characters, the more I can identify with them then the more real they become to me and those are the books I have no problem returning to again and again.
Do the characters that mean the most to me reflect elements in my psyche? Maybe. Those characters are people that I would like to meet and spend time with, characters whose values and experiences I could imagine sharing with them as I would a good friend, might—after all—be just like me.
See what other authors in our Round Robin group have to say on this subject:

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Emotion in Writing by Victoria Chatham

Our topic for June is: How emotionally involved are you in reading or writing some scenes?

This question immediately took me to the scene in the movie Romancing the Stone where romance novelist Joan Wilder (as played by Kathleen Turner), is sobbing her socks off as she finishes her novel because she is so moved by it. Then there’s the ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn’ scene between Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. How about just about any scene in Casablanca but especially ‘of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine’.

I could pull any number of scenes from any number of movies to give as examples, but I’m sure you have your own favorites. In each of these movies, those scenes had to first be written, whether by an author first whose work was adapted for the screen, or by script writers. Each of those writers knew how to pull at heart strings, light heartedly in Romancing the Stone and more dramatically with Gone With the Wind and Casablanca. The depth of feeling in those scenes are enough to stay with any viewer or reader which is the mark of a great writer.

For anyone who hasn’t seen Casablanca, it is set in that town in North Africa during WWII. The leading characters are Rick and Ilsa who have previously had an affair in Paris but Ilsa ran out on him and broke his heart. That she had her reasons does not detract from the depth of emotion when he sees her again. The subtext of  the ‘gin joint’ line, indicagtes that he was getting over her but now she’s back and is breaking his heart all over again. That is the kind of writing that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go.

I do not see how any writer can NOT get emotionally involved in their writing. If they can’t, then where is the connection or depth in their story? If, as a writer, what you write does not move you, how can you expect it to engage a reader? And isn’t this what we want? To engage our readers? Now that seems like an awful lot of questions but in answering them and studying how to build intrigue, subtext and emotion into your writing will leave readers wanting more.

Take a look at what these fine authors have to say on the subject:

Skye Taylor
Anne Stenhouse
Marci Baun
Heather Haven
Victoria Chatham
Dr. Bob Rich
Diane Bator
Beverley Bateman
Rachael Kosinski
Margaret Fieland
Connie Vines
Rhobin Courtright

Saturday, May 21, 2016

How Confrontation Creates Powerful Drama by Victoria Chatham

Our topic this month discusses how confrontation creates powerful drama. Here is a brief explanation of a scene from my Regency Romance, His Dark Enchantress.

I do not like wimpy heroines and this scene is the result of Emmaline taking matters into her own hands. Lord Clifton had gone to the races at Epsom and wanted his barouche to collect him at a certain time. The coachman was injured by one of the horses when they were being harnessed and suffered a concussion. Emmaline decided to drive the barouche in his place, not the typical action of a young lady in this era. The equivalent today, I think, would be a guy being incensed that his girl drove his muscle car! After Lucius rides off, Emmaline decides it is time for her to return to her home in Devon. She leaves London; he doesn’t know where she is, she doesn’t know he is looking for her. As clarification, the term ‘John Coachman’ referred, usually, to a coachman for hire rather than a coachman fully employed in someone’s service.

That Emmaline was totally capable of driving a four-in-hand is explained elsewhere in the book. I was actually taken to task over this element in my story, my reviewer mentioning that it would not be possible for a young lady (Emmaline is 24 years old) to drive such a team. My inspiration for this scene was Mrs. Cynthia Haydon (1918 – 2012) who bred and drove Hackney horses which she had done so since she was quite a young girl. I had the great pleasure of watching Mrs. Haydon on several occasions at various horse shows in England.

Characters in the scene:
Lord Lucius Clifton, Earl of Avondale
Miss Emmaline Devereux
Noble, His Lordship’s head groom
Juliana, His Lordship’s sister

He spoke quietly but with stern authority and Noble simply went to do his bidding. Lucius stayed in the ménage, his jaw clenched so tightly it hurt, his temper barely under control. He returned to the barouche and looked up at his coachman.
“What in hell’s name possessed you to imagine you could drive my horses?” he demanded. His voice cracked with anger.
“Imagination did not enter into it,” Emmaline returned.
Lucius was so furious he missed the tremor in her voice.
“You could have overturned the barouche and injured my horses. You, Juliana and Noble could all be dead. Did you think of that?”
“No, I did not.” Emmaline stood up on the box. “And don’t shout. I am not deaf.”
Lucius paid her no heed as she scrambled down from the driving seat. “What if you had been recognized? How would it look for my team to be driven by a woman?”
“Is it your horses, your people or your reputation for which you are concerned, my Lord?” Emmaline quivered from head to toe as she looked up at him.
His grey eyes glinted with fury under drawn brows and he lifted his hands, fingers outstretched. She took an involuntary step back from him but he caught her shoulders in a firm grip and shook her until her teeth rattled.
“I take my responsibilities more seriously than apparently do you,” he shot back at her. He released her as quickly as he had held her and she staggered back against the wheel of the barouche, felt the hard rim press between her shoulder blades. “I do not hide behind a borrowed tricorn nor pad my shoulders with a rolled sheepskin.”
He towered over her, his face overshadowing hers but all he saw was a vision of her on the ground in a tangle of broken limbs. How could he explain that to her family and to his peers? What would his life be without her in it? He shook his head to clear it and for the first time saw the fatigue in her face, the warring expression in her eyes.
She was as angry as he, but beneath the anger there was something else, something he could not immediately determine as she drew herself to her full height. Her eyes blazed like blue beacons and her lips were as bloodless as her face.
“I will tell you, sir, neither your horses nor your people were ever in danger. I thought only to do you a service when your coachman was injured, and instead I am reviled and castigated for it.”
Around them the air vibrated with their anger, was felt in the darkness of the stable where Noble waited with the grooms and the hack. Neither combatant had heard the crack of the door or scrape of the window as members of the household listened to the furious argument.
For a moment Lucius said nothing, his mouth clamped into a thin line. His gaze raked over her once more.
“I have to tell you, John Coachman, that you have impressed me in ways you cannot possibly begin to imagine.” His voice was calm but vibrated with a dangerous undertone which chilled Emmaline to the bone. “However, there is no room for you in my employ and I do not wish to see you here ever again.”
The words were spoken softly but as sharply as the crack of a whip. The words flayed Emmaline’s fragile hold on reality.
He never wanted to see her again.
Her heart pounded so hard in her chest it sent her blood roiling in her veins and blurred her vision. Lucius caught her hand, into which he pressed something hard.
He called for his horse and Noble brought up the hack. Lucius vaulted into the saddle.
She looked up into his white, handsome face. The moonlight shone on the flat planes of his cheeks and shadowed his eyes but she could see the furious glitter in them. As he spurred his horse forward the sound of its iron shod hooves clattering and scrabbling on the cobble stones, rang loud in the clear night air.
Emmaline, drained of all emotion, staggered back and grasped the wheel rim for support.
The yellow rind of a full moon peeped above the roof tops and chimney stacks, casting their linear outlines into sharp relief. Moonlight illuminated the silvery trail of a single tear as it rolled slowly down her cheek. She dashed it away and uncurled her fingers to see what Lucius had pressed into her gloved palm.
There, glinting in the cold, pale, light was a single golden guinea.
It weighed as heavy as thirty pieces of silver.

I hope you have enjoyed this excerpt and will enjoy others from these fine authors.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

How Does the Weather Affect Your Writing? by Victoria Chatham

Our Round RobinTopic this month asks have you noticed how weather is used in writing? How have you used weather in your writing? Drama? Mood? Revelation?  
I can never think of writing weather related scenes without recalling the oft-quoted line ‘It was a dark and stormy night’. The quote may well be remembered, but perhaps less so is the rest of the sentence.

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

This is the opening to Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1830 Gothic novel Paul Clifford and what a scene it conjures up, especially with that wind ‘rattling along the housetops’. You can bet your last dollar nothing good is coming out of this situation.

In 1983 the English Department of San Jose State University decided to sponsor a competition for the worst opening sentences. They had no idea how popular the response would be. There is now an annual competition with several sub-categories. For the list of 2015 winners check out There is even a Dark and Stormy Night cocktail made from ginger beer and zaya rum courtesy of the Swig Bar in San Francisco. Schultz had his cartoon character, Snoopy, sitting on top of his kennel with his typewriter and starting his novel with that line.

Weather in novels or movies can be a huge catalyst for disaster which in turn creates conflict. Think of the aftermath provided by the hurricanes in the Wizard of Oz and Twister, snow and cold in The Shining and The Day After Tomorrow. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s novel Heat and Dust portrays those elements in India and in the thriller Smokescreen, set in South Africa, heat creates all sorts of problems for Dick Francis’s character Edward Lincoln.

In my own writing I’ve used a bright, sunny day to depict my hero’s sense of well-being. This fact lulls him into a feeling of contentment which is then shattered when he arrives home to find his wife is missing. During the subsequent hue and cry, a heavy rainstorm brings more drama. In viewing a misty autumn morning my heroine muses on the passage of time. The last time she looked on this scene it had been spring time. The use of the weather in each of these scenes enhances or heightens the conflict for my characters and is as useful a writing tool as using the play of light and dark to create interest.

See how these authors make use of the weather in their writing:

Saturday, March 19, 2016

March Round Robin

This Month's Topic: Secondary characters have many functions in stories. Have you ever had a secondary character surprise you in some way? How? How about in other author's books that you've read? Do you have a favorite secondary character in either your own work or in books you have read?

Oh yes, indeedy! Several times in fact. The first romantic novel I attempted, a contemporary western, I cannot exactly pinpoint where the heroine's story morphed into her grandmother's. From researching ranching and rodeo events, and in the processing meeting cowboys, stock contractors and rodeo riders who were endlessly helpful, I found myself researching pre-war Montreal and then the French Underground during WWII. I finished writing that book but because there were so many huge leaps from one place and time to another it was very disjointed. At that time I was too much of a newbie to know what to do with it and didn't want to do what several professionals advised which was to cut 25,000 words and relocate the story from Southern Alberta (where I live) to Montana or Wyoming which at the time I had never visited and knew little about. That story still languishes (figuratively speaking) under the bed.

When I started writing my first Regency romance, His Dark Enchantress, my hero's sister kept intruding. She was so pushy I kept asking myself who's story was I telling? Juliana (the sister) came front and center ahead of Emmaline (my heroine) on every page. I finally gave in and promised Juliana her own story, which I am now in the process of writing. I don't think of myself as a pushy person but in some corner of my psyche I must be as Juliana is, in fox hunting terms, a 'thruster' or a person who rides at the front of the field and too close to the hunt staff or hounds.

One of my favorite Regency novels is Frederica by Georgette Heyer. The copy I have is much-loved, beginning to be a bit tattered, first edition. I still read it from time to time and find it as fresh and funny as the first time I read it. A secondary character in that book, which I am as comfortable with as an old friend, is the Marquis of Alverstoke's secretary Mr. Charles Trevor. Charles is an absolute paragon of efficiency without being the least bit stuffy and, in fact, Frederica describes him as 'an excellent young man'.

Secondary characters can bolster the hero or heroine, they can be a good friend of either. They can be smart and slightly caustic, or a bit of a buffoon as a foil. They all have their place and in my opinion most books are better for including them.

I hope you'll visit these fine authors and take a look at how they feel  about secondary characters:

Fiona McGier
Anne Stenhouse
Skye Taylor
Beverley Bateman
Judith Copek
Connie Vines
Helena Fairfax
Marci Baun
Rachael Kosinski
Hollie Glover
Dr. Bob Rich
Rhobin Courtright

Victoria Chatham

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Writing Obstacles by Victoria Chatham

What are one (or two) writing projects you want to accomplish this year? What will be any obstacles you might encounter? I laughed when I saw this Round Robin topic for January, because this year I have committed to writing two books, one for release in May and the second in October. Will there be obstacles? You betcha!

I have to say right up front that I’m something of a hedonist, so my first and biggest obstacle is always myself. Yep, given a choice between writing or sharing a glass of wine over lunch with a friend, the lunch is likely to win out and writing will be put on the back burner – again.

I often have to put in catch-up time with my writing and then will go through periods of ‘how-could-I-write-this-drivel’ and then panic as I equate word count with my time frame. Not the smartest course. The smart course would be to get the writing done first but I never professed to be smart.

Another obstacle for me is that whatever my story sounds like in my head, by the time it reaches the page it’s never the same. Being a Virgo and therefore something of a perfectionist, I might then write and re-write the same scene a dozen times before I’m happy enough with it to move on. I’ve tried just letting it go, I really have but, like sand in a shoe, it keeps irritating me until I go back and fix whatever it is I think needs fixing.

Usually the parts that have given me sleepless nights are the parts that my critique partners have no trouble with, and parts I think are fine my beta readers will question. I try to get out of my own way in order for the writing to flow, which I wish it did as easily as the ideas I get. Not content with working on my two books for this year, I have also committed to a Christmas themed novella.

That should be easy right? I mean, I have 10 months to write it in between working on the other two. But winter doesn’t last forever and then there will months when sunshine will tempt me out of doors, whether it be for gardening, hiking or just sitting on the deck. There might be a camping trip or two, and always the movies and my writing group. Ah well. That’s just me. I always get there in the end.

Visit these fine authors to see what obstacles they come up with.