Saturday, September 06, 2008

Weekend Wind-Down - A Book With Biddy

This Saturday, our columnist in the trenches tells us about Lessons She Should Already Know and what she's learned this past month....take it away Biddy!

This month has been one long lesson to me about guarding my writing time. In fact it has been about what happens when you don’t say ‘No’ and don’t set boundaries. It is a lesson I thought I learnt a few years ago but I always need reminding that when I don’t have time for myself and what is important in my life I become a very unhappy Biddy.

So what went wrong?

I think like anything it is one of gradual erosion of my barriers, because giving in to loved ones is over the little stuff isn’t a problem is it? Everyone has to have a little give and take… and we all want to help out people we love. But for me it was the thin edge of the wedge. Once I had given in to the little stuff it became harder to say ‘No’ to the other stuff. To want to not be selfish because that day you had booked off to write meant you could be around to:

a) Achieve world peace

b) Discover a cure for cancer

But each time I did that I relegated my writing time to being something less important. And when I don’t treat it as important how can I expect others to treat it as important?
And then of course when there was a bit of writing time I was too stressed to write because I was worrying that I hadn’t been writing. Picture me running round in circles smacking into walls!!

Last weekend there was a step change though. Firstly I said how I felt and you know what they say about a problem shared! Secondly I had time for me. Biddy Time. I cuddled it to myself and revelled in the knowledge that no one was going to speak to me for at least twenty four hours (unless I wanted them to). Thirdly I actually got round to picking up the revisions… and with some help from the lovely Ms Donna Alward I have restarted them and managed to burn through quite a bit.

The rest of September is not looking that full of Biddy Time but I am drawing rings around every bit I can find.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Thursday Talk-Time - Dedications

Natasha's back and she's been shopping already! And she's talking about book dedications ...

I've sinned! I have mentioned my Amazon habit here, haven't I? Hmm, well there I was happily shuffling my 'want' list and I inadvertantly clicked the 'buy now with 1-click' option and the deed was done. I'm about to become the proud owner of Bloomsbury's 'Dictionary of Dedications'. Just the thing for reading in a hot bubble bath I thought.

It all began when my 'Wanted: White Wedding' got a wonderful 5 star review on Amazon. It's still there if you want to read it. And, at the bottom of it is this, 'The author notes and dedication are very heart-moving too. Don't skip them. A powerful romance all the way around!'.

Apart from being a lovely review to read, it started me thinking. I never really bothered to read the dedications in books until I had to start thinking about dedicating mine. It's a tricky business dedicating books and I have to confess I'm rubbish at it. Sometimes I haven't dedicated them to anyone. I think it must be the Brit in me. Those wonderfully gushing dedications other authors seem to manage so effortlessly feel yukky when I try it.

My RITA nominated book, 'The Tycoon's Princess Bride' I dedicated to our very own 'Trish, Ally and Nic' because they didn't laugh too much during my hours of MSNing 'B-b-but WHY would Princess Isabella go to Mont Avellana?????' Not that they were particularly helpful either, may I say! They seemed to feel it was my problem and my own fault for agreeing to write an editor led continuity.

'Wanted: White Wedding' I dedicated to my editor, Jenny Hutton, and I could have been very much more effusive without any effort at all. That book was a tough write for all kinds of non-writerly reasons. My mum was dying from ovarian cancer and I'd moved back to 'home' to care for her during its creation. Without Jenny's support and encouragement I may well have disappeared under my duvet never to reappear. So, when she asked me who I wanted to dedicate my book to the answer was obvious. But ... did I expect anyone would notice??? No. I can't say I did.

It turns out, though, that dedications can be as fascinating as wills - and just as illuminating. In the beginning they weren't 'personal'. More a showcase for how absolutely necessary it was for an author to flatter the rich and famous.

The one in the King James Bible, for example, begins:
'Great and manifold were the blessings, most dread Sovereign, which Almighty God, the father of all mercies, bestowed upon the people of England, when first he sent Your Majesty's Royal Person to rule and reign over us .... ' And it goes on ... and on .... and on.

Jane Austen dedicated 'Emma' to the Prince Regent, not because she wished to, but because the prince's circle let it be known that George would 'appreciate' a dedication. She reluctantly did her best but her words were changed by her publishers into something more gushing.

These days you can dedicate your books to anything or anyone.

Some authors dedicate all their books to the same person - as in, 'For Steve'. It's a bit dull, perhaps, but quite lovely if you think that must mean the author is still in love with her 'Steve' as the years pass. Other authors give you a glimpse of more traumatic private lives. 'For Laura, with my love' becomes 'For Claire', 'For Rebecca' ... You get the picture? And, being the person I am, I sooooooo want to know what has happened to Laura!

Of course, if you are Graham Greene and that happens you change the dedication. His 1936 'Journey Without Maps' was dedicated, 'To my wife: 'I carry you like a passport everywhere.' ' Later editions had, 'To my cousin Barbara Strachwitz.'

When the dedication is to a partner there's often a kind of apology - 'To John, without whose help this book could not have been written'. Apparently one American writer dedicated his book to his wife and family, 'but for whom it would have been finished in half the time' which is kinda fun and much more appropriate for me. Must nick that some time.

I love the one from 'The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe':
My dear Lucy,
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say, but I shall still be
your affectionate Godfather,

Shannon Hale's in 'Austenland' - 'For Colin Firth--You're a really great guy, but I'm married, so I think we should just be friends.' is fun.

Then there's Ellen Wittlinger's in 'Hard Love': 'For Kate and Morgan and for everyone whose first love was a hard love.' And Charles de Lint's in 'The Onion Girl' 'For all those who against all odds made the right choice.'

I'm beginning to really look forward to my new book arriving!

One of the most pompous dedications I've ever read appeared in one of my school set texts. Ford Maddox Ford in 'The Good Soldier' wrote: 'My dear Stella, I have always regarded this as my best book - at any rate as the best book of mine of a pre-war period; and between its writing and the appearance of my next novel nearly 10 years have elapsed, so that whatever I may have since written may be regarded as the work of a different man - as the work of your man. For it is certain that without the incentive to live that you offered me I should scarcely have survived the war-period and it is more certain still that without your spurring me again to write it I should never have written it again. And it happens that, by a queer chance, The Good Soldier is almost alone amongst my books in being dedicated to no-one: Fate must have elected to let it wait the 10 years that it waited - for this dedication ... And so I subscribe myself in all truth and in the hope that you will accept at once the particular dedication of this book and the general dedication of this edition. Your FMF.'

Sadly, Stella Bowen was pretty soon out of her FMF's affections. Perhaps she read that dedication and ran?????

Anyway, here's my question - Do you read dedications? And if you do, do you ever imagine what the story behind them might be? Have you a favourite one? And, finally, who would get your dedication?

Much love

Natasha's latest Harlequin Romance 'Wanted: White Wedding' is available in the UK here and in NA here!

Romantic Times Magazine says: 'Natasha Oakley's Wanted: White Wedding (4.5) has its share of deeply touching moments, but what makes it stand out are the humor and the wonderful characters.'

You can find out more about it on her website and you can hear her moan about 'life, the universe and everything' if you visit her blog.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Writers' Wednesday - Foreshadowing & Pay-off

This Wednesday Fiona Harper is going to tell us about the one little trick she likes pulling out of her writers’ toolbox when a plot gets tricky, characters are being predictable or the pace is slowing when it should be zipping along – foreshadowing and pay-off.

Foreshadowing is often used in movies and mentioned frequently in screen-writing books, but I think it can also be one of the novelist’s best friends. Foreshadowing, or set-up, is a piece of information that has a ‘pay-off’ later in the story, and can come in many forms – dialogue, action, internal monologue, description.

Think about it. In a murder mystery on TV, there’s always what appears to be a random shot of a character doing something slightly out of place, a weapon, or we hear a piece of seemingly innocent dialogue. Later in the story, we suddenly realise that this tiny clue (that we maybe almost missed) was vital to discovering who the villain was. That’s foreshadowing and pay-off. But you don’t have to have a dead body in your book to use it…

Foreshadowing and plot

If there’s one thing readers can’t stand in a plot, it’s coincidences that stretch their credibility too far. You can save yourself some grief by doing something as simple as planting a reason early in the story for your heroine to be attending the same party as the hero a few scenes or chapters on. Then, when she turns up, it may be a surprise to both of them, but readers aren’t thinking: ‘My, wasn’t that convenient?’

Foreshadowing can also be used to create powerful turning points in your plot. Here’s an example from the Pierce Brosnan movie, ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’.

Catherine Banning is an insurance investigator who is convinced that wealthy businessman Thomas Crown was far from an innocent bystander when a $100 million Monet was stolen from a museum. She’s prepared to use any tactics to get close to her man and one night gatecrashes a party he’s attending with the intent of seducing him to get the information she needs to catch him. The next morning – after a wild night together – he presents her with a glass of green sludgey stuff for breakfast (the kind of drink that’s supposed to be good for you, but tastes foul).

So what? we think. It’s just a nasty-looking breakfast. Shudder and move on. Or we would, if the vile green drink hadn’t been set up earlier in the movie. When Catherine first appears and starts irritating the police officers working on the case, we see her downing one of these ‘healthy’ cocktails for breakfast as the detectives look on and grimace. She has it every day and it’s not the sort of thing you’d just find lurking in the back of your fridge, you’d have to know where to go and buy it.

So, when Thomas Crown’s butler brings Catherine her drink, her moment of triumph evaporates. With that one action, Thomas has let her know that he wasn’t playing her game – she was playing his. He knew she would be there for breakfast even before she did. Suddenly, he’s the one in charge again.

And there’s no need to slow the pace with lengthy explanations of why this is significant. All Catherine says in the end is: “Damn. I hate being a foregone conclusion.” They both know – and the audience know – what has just happened.

Foreshadowing and motivation

Now, I must admit, I don’t actually plan this when I’m writing, but I do keep my eyes peeled for words or actions that could have a good pay-off later in the story. Sometimes I use them; sometimes I don’t.

In my upcoming November release, ‘Christmas Wishes, Mistletoe Kisses’, my heroine, ex-WAG Louise, is watching a movie on TV that was filmed in the grounds of the grand old house she has just bought:

There was a scene halfway through the film, just as the lovers were starting to act on their feelings for each other that had been filmed on the balcony of the boathouse. A picnic was set out on a little table with a red and white checked cloth. The sun was shining and shy, heated glances were flying between hero and heroine.

Louise sighed. That was what love should be like, she mused as she covered her mouth with a hand to stifle a yawn—overly bright and colourful, the sun always shining. The zing of electricity in the air. And the way he looked at her—as if he could see right through her and into her soul. As if he wanted to drown in her. That was what love should be like.

What a pity it was only like that in corny old movies, she thought, as the hero pulled the heroine into the shadowy interior of the boathouse and wrapped her in his arms.

Later that night, Louise dreams of her boathouse – and her hunky gardener, Ben, and this is where the crush she has on him starts to go completely out of control. She dreams of the red and white tablecloth, the summer sun high in the sky…

Slowly, he tipped her head until she was looking him in the eyes.

‘You don’t have to hide from me.’

Oh, she would have given anything to believe that was true. Tears sprung to her eyes and clung to her lashes. Even in the bright sunshine, she could see his pupils growing, become darker and darker. But it wasn’t just desire she could see there. Deep in the blackness were the answers to all the questions she’d ever wanted to ask.

Yes, the eyes said. Yes, you are good enough. Yes, you deserve to be loved like this.

One tear escaped, pulled by gravity, and raced away down her cheek. She couldn’t move, not even to swipe it away. It carried on running as he continued to stare at her, his expression full of texture and depth, until it trailed down her neck.

A question flickered across her face—she felt it as surely as the salty river air.

Do you?

He didn’t move a muscle, except to stroke the skin of her temple with the edge of his thumb. The eyes held the answer once again. Yes.

Something inside her, something that had been clenched tight and hard for years, unfurled. And Ben Oliver stepped back into the cool darkness of the boathouse, pulling her with him and repeated his answer over and over again with his lips on hers.

The plan was to use this dream to explain why Louise’s resolve weakens where Ben is concerned. Not only can she not stop thinking about kissing him, but in her dream there was the hint that Ben might just be the man who could love her for who she really is – something Louise wants more than air to breathe with.

But the big pay-off comes at the end of the story. Louise is a damaged heroine, and she wasn’t ready to accept Ben’s love when he offered it. But, months later, she’s finally ready, and he finds her in the boathouse. There’s lots of little pay-offs in this scene – a hint at their first meeting, a reminder of how Ben proposed the first time, a few snatches of dialogue that echo earlier meetings, and the dream…

But I’m not going to give the game away here! Too many spoilers!

Foreshadowing and romantic moments

Of course, foreshadowing can also be useful to add the ‘ahh’ factor to those romantic moments in your story. Think for a moment about ‘Sleepless in Seattle’.

In the opening scenes, Annie asks her mother how she knew her father was the one for her. Annie’s mother describes taking his hand for the first time and just knowing, because it was magic. Later that night, as Annie is driving and listening to the radio, she hears Sam from Seattle describing the moment he first took his wife’s hand. Sam says that when he took her hand, it felt like ‘coming home’, and there’s a pay-off here as Annie’s ears prick up and she and Sam both say ‘magic’ at the same time.

That is the moment when the seed is planted in Annie’s head that this could be the man for her. It is when the obsession starts, when the romance begins. And we wouldn’t feel as if fate had called her out of her safe little life if there hadn’t been that moment of foreshadowing and pay-off.

Foreshadowing and endings

Again, the big pay-off comes at the end of the movie, when Annie and Sam finally meet on the top of the Empire State Building. He holds out his hand and she slides her fingers into his. The pay-off is just a pause that lasts a split-second. There are no fireworks or flashing lights to let the audience know that Sam and Annie have found their soul-mate. No dialogue is necessary to ram the point home. As they hold hands, in the back of our heads, we hear two phrases: ‘coming home’ and ‘magic’. We know they’ve just found their happy ending from that one small gesture. Now, that’s good foreshadowing and pay-off.

Using foreshadowing and pay-off gives us a sense of completion, a sense of satisfaction. And that’s why I think it’s so good for endings, because we all want to read romances that finish with a sense of everything being right with the world, even if things looked shaky there for a while. We all want to close the book and sigh a little sigh.

So, be on the look out as you write for those little phrases, those tell-tale actions that can be built upon to give a pay-off that will hit readers between the eyes!

Fiona’s next release, Christmas Wishes, Mistletoe Kisses, is out in the UK and North America in November, and Australia and New Zealand in December.

Three wishes for Christmas…

It’s taken all of Louise Thornton’s courage to start again with her young son. This will be a different life, one away from the paparazzi – and her cheating celebrity husband!

Louise is determined to make this Christmas perfect for her son. But it’s not until she meets meltingly attractive landscape architect Ben Oliver that she starts to sparkle again.

Single dad Ben puts his daughter first. But when he catches Louise under the mistletoe, Ben realises only he can make Louise’s wishes come true…

Monday, September 01, 2008

Happy Birthday Lil Pink Dancing Guy!!!

It seems like only yesterday he was a little sparkling light of an idea on MSN Messenger. And yet here he is... The Pink Heart Society's Little Pink Dancing Guy is a TWO YEAR OLD!!!

And oh MY how he's GROWN!

Naturally he's VERY EXCITED about another birthday and to celebrate he's bouncing up and down at the idea of all the lovely pressies people are gonna give him! Last year he had a treasure hunt all of his own so you could see his pressies and be in with the chance to win a huge bumper prize. This year he's having a treasure hunts for lot's of prizes!!! So don't forget to check in every day for our random links to authors all over the world who'll be offering you plenty of chances to help the little guy p-a-r-t-a-y! Just look for the Treasure Hunt logo, follow the link to see the little guys pressie on the authors blog and leave a comment - it's just that simple ;) Well he is ONLY two so we need to make it easy for him...

Meanwhile you can leave your birthday messages here for him and let us know what you love about The Pink Heart Society or what you'd like to see more of in the next year...

What men would you put forward for our Male On Monday Hall of Fame???

What burning topic on writing have you always wanted to learn more about?

What movies would you get us to watch for our Friday Film Nights?

Is there something about a writer's life you'd love to know?

If you had a talk time slot to tell us your favorite Series/Category romance book of all time what would it be?

Wanna tell us what you're reading RIGHT NOW?!

We only have four months left in 2008 and we do like to shake out the cobwebs to make sure you keep visiting us for another year so here's your chance to tell us what YOU'D like to see more of from The Pink Heart Society!!! It's here for YOU after all... ;)

And last but not least. It's OUR BIRTHDAY. And it's a MONDAY. So what does that mean.... drumroll please... because YES LADIES...


The man behind the LEGEND IN A TOWEL. So let that corporate sigh out and let THE BLOG HOPPING BEGIN for the official


Simply leave us a comment with a link and let us know you've added your favourite picture of Hugh to your blog, make sure to title your post The PHS Hugh Jackman Tour 2008 and then we can all do the rounds and decide who has the best ...You can even come back and leave a comment here to tell us where your favorite one was!