This was the morning I was planning to print out a partial first draft of my romantic thriller. I’m 25,000 words in, and feeling good even though I know I need to cut at least 5,000 words before moving on. Some scenes start too late, others ramble, and I have one secondary character who is so strong, she needs to be cut down to size. The good news is…my main characters are riffing off each other well, the emotional tension is building, and my convoluted plotline is, at long last, beginning to make sense.
So then why am I writing this piece?
Because there’s another manuscript out there sitting on an editor’s desk waiting to be read, and it’s driving me crazy. And while I know I should be plowing ahead on my work-in-progress, I’m starting to get antsy. Checking my inbox, messing about on the internet, doing the laundry….
It’s a pattern I’ve never outgrown.
And probably never will, so, here’s the plan. I’m going to take little miss bossy from my WIP and give her a book of her own because, when it comes to romance, three’s a crowd. And if the aforementioned editor, the one who’s going to call any minute now, is interested in one book, she may be interested in three.
Okay, now I’m thinking series. And, unlike mystery and detective stories, in the world of romance, the main characters only get one book. They may play a secondary role in another, but a new hero and heroine will take centre stage, and then they, too, will move on.
The rules apply whether it’s a contemporary romance set in a small town like Cedar Cove (see Debbie Macomber’s award-winning series), or a Regency-era quartet like Sarah Maclean’s “Rule of Scandals.” Because, when it comes to relationships, the possibilities are endless!
As for me…I think my new plan has potential, the laundry is done, and those 5,000 words I need to lose from my WIP may just find their way into another book…with little miss bossy in the starring role.
And with a little luck, my phone will ring tomorrow!
I think the die was cast the day my Latin teacher suggested I translate Caesar’s Gallic Wars at home. They called it “independent study,” but when she wrote “goodbye, little Miss Sweet-n-Sour” in my high-school year book, I knew it to be true.
I had crossed her personal Rubicon once too often.
Which pretty well sums up the driving force behind the mystery shorts I write. Whether it’s a serial bride in Bitter End, a honky-tonk piano player in Oscar Chump! or even a slightly-psycho claims adjuster in Bermuda Short, once someone crosses their line in the sand, they’re all about revenge.
Ironically, when I first thought about bringing these stories together, I wasn’t sure what connected them. Louise Tellier Hannington Brown had been racking up her assets the old-fashioned way while Oscar Chump kept his in his closet, and as for Carolann Gravelle, no sooner did she find true love than she lost it again.
So she bided her time, made her plans, and flew to Bermuda two days after her former lover and his new bride.
…Had it been any other Tuesday, she would have been at her desk in suburban Toronto, processing death claims for Parkwood Life and Casualty. But not today. Today, she was flying first class “drinking champagne and dreaming about death and dismemberment amidst the bougainvillea.”
Poor Carolann. But lucky me!
I had just returned from Bermuda, with the sights and sounds of the island still fresh in my mind, when there was a call for submissions to Cold Blood IV, part of a long-running anthology edited by Peter Sellers, and published by Mosaic Press. They were looking for original stories and dangling a huge carrot…the book would be launched at Bouchercon, the international convention for mystery writers, to be held in Toronto the following autumn.
Talk about motivation.
And then there’s Oscar Chump, a small-town mystery with a fifties’ feel. For years, all I had was the title and the lyrics from a 1956 rock-and-roll song by Jim Lowe continually playing in my head. He kept asking “Green Door, what’s that secret you’re keeping?” I had no idea, so I asked Oscar Chump. I’m pretty sure the secret I came up with wasn’t exactly the answer Jim Lowe had in mind, but I had my story.
We’ll file that one under writer’s revenge.
And while divorce does turn deadly in Bitter End, I swear this one’s total fiction. Except for maybe the odd bit about sailing (I had a part interest in a twenty-one-foot Shark at the time), and an article I had recently read about forensic accountants searching for the hidden assets of a deposed dictator. In my short story, the assets are, shall we say, far more personal…and it definitely ends with a twist!
I remain, yours sincerely, “Little Miss Sweet-n-Sour”
Author of Revenge With A Twist, & other stories
Shortly after the publication of Outbid by the Boss, our first co-authored romance as Stephanie Browning, Susan Brown and I both headed for England. Not together of course…that would be too simple! Separate planes, separate schedules and separate plans, with just enough of an overlap for one of us to leave the other a note in the women’s toilets at Heathrow.
Stephanie Browning was here! scrawled in hot-pink lipstick across the door of the fifth stall on the left!
It could have been me, or it could have been Susan! We were both on a bit of a busman’s holiday really, searching out future locations while visiting friends and family. Susan’s remit was to walk in the footsteps of our latest heroine, twenty-nine-year-old Alexis Kirkwood. As head concierge at one of London’s most prestigious hotels in Undone by the Star, Alex needed to know how to navigate the city’s major attractions, score last- minute theatre tickets and jump the queue at exclusive restaurants, and therefore, so did we.
Meanwhile, my husband and I had moved on to the south of France, staying in a village near the fortified city of Carcassonne. Which just happens to be in the grape-growing region of Languedoc-Roussilon where, coincidentally, one of Stephanie Browning’s future heroines (she’s “on the books” for the third in our Bedford County trilogy) will be interning at a chi-chi winery before coming home to start her own vineyard. Lucky me! You can’t write about wine unless you first sample the grape!
Being on location comes in handy, but when you are writing with a partner, having a shared “sense of place” is even better. England has been an ideal setting for Stephanie Browning. Susan and I have both spent a fair bit of time there over the years, and even hiked our way through Derbyshire’s Peak District — separately, of course — but when it came time for our main characters to set out for the hero’s ancestral home in Outbid by the Boss, we were “seeing” the same countryside.
And not just trusting it to memory, a lesson learnt when we were at a writers’ conference in Detroit, delivering a seminar on collaboration. During the afternoon break, we had tea with Gay Courter, author of The Midwife, River of Dreams and Code Ezra, among others. In preparation for Code Ezra, a novel of espionage and relationships, Gay had travelled to Israel with her family, a tape recorder and a camera. With her husband at the wheel, Gay was able to sniff the air and record the sights and sounds of Israel as an aide-memoire for a later date.
We take a similar approach, whether we visit a location in real time or check it out online, because capturing that sense of place is an all-important part of our writing journey. Knowing what type of spring flowers are blooming in Hyde Park during our story’s timeline, or what grapes are likely to thrive back in Bedford County are as necessary as picking the right shade of lipstick.
We figure another two or three trips per book, and we’ll have it sorted. After all, research does require sacrifice, and that’s what writers do.
…Did somebody just say, “Italy!”
We have a running joke, Susan and I, that sees us sharing digs once again, only this time, instead of beer and cigarettes (that was me, I’m afraid, guilty on both counts), it’ll be tea and cookies and incontinent supplies. And maybe a bottle of scotch. Our biggest concern is that we won’t remember where we stashed it!
However, in the meantime, (we figure we’re good to go for at least another twenty or thirty years) here’s our list-everlasting of New Year’s resolutions!
- Make money, lots of money…preferably by writing books that generate enough of an income for us to travel and retire in style.
- Write books that people want to read.
- But first, write the books that we want to write, not the ones we think we should.
- Pat ourselves on the back (as we are wont to do!) for everything we have done; whether we make the money we’d like to have or not!
- Revel in the writing process ‘cause there’s nothing finer than a well-chosen word or a well-writ phrase.
- Celebrate in style when we do succeed.
- Which means finding that perfect dress, one which hides life’s bumps and bruises and show us to be the grand dames we have become…of course, if we stick to the script, that would be red for Susan, black for me.
- Take a nostalgia tour of all our old haunts and be able to eat and drink like we did in the old days without fear of not fitting into the aforementioned perfect dresses.
- Be thrilled with our accomplishments when it is time to put down our pens even though we said, way back in ’92, that if we never did anything else, we would be happy anyway.
- Remember each and every moment so we can relive them in conversation, laugh merrily at our own foibles and toast our successes.
Over and over again….