Wednesday, April 20, 2011

TBR Challenge 2011: Her Singapore Fling

I cheated a little bit this month with the TBR Challenge 2011 book I chose. It is a new release, so obviously not something collecting dust on the night table. In my defense, it's the last book in a string of connected books about the Bennet siblings and I have had to wait some time for it to be released! Right off the bat, I can tell you I think it was worth the wait.
The Book Her Singapore Fling  by Kelly Hunter

The Particulars an April 2011 Harlequin Presents title (published as Red Hot Renegade in the UK)

Why it was my next had to read? I loved the other Bennet family books. Enough that I went back and hunted down the first in the series after jumping in the middle, something that I rarely bother to do.

The Blurb:In desperate need of protection, Jianne Xang-Bennett reluctantly turns to her estranged husband, martial arts expert Jacob Bennett, for help. But there are problems: they've been separated for twelve years and cannot be in the same room together without arguing or ripping each other's clothes off—often at the same time!

But Jacob will go to extremes for those he loves, and Jianne is the only woman who can bring this honorable warrior to his knees. Can they delve beneath their red-hot desire and blazing anger to find the love that has always been hiding?

Review: I was a bit nervous about reading this book. Jianne is mentioned by the other siblings as the biggest source of guilt and regret from their wild youth. I didn't really want to read a book where either the heroine had made a huge deal of something minor or beloved characters from other books were villainised. Hunter walks that fine line of keeping me happy in both respects very well. Jianne is a sympathetic character with real complaints about her husband's past treatment, but she's not above acknowledging her own part in the failure of their marriage. She is also a great study in how to make a quiet and non confrontational heroine something other than a doormat. She politely and resolutely stands her ground and backs down her larger, louder ex-husband.

Jacob is taciturn and even veering into sullen. But he knows it and he's trying hard to do the right thing, even if he isn't always correct about what that is. I had a real soft spot for him and I enjoyed seeing his interactions with his siblings which are appropriately brief. I loved watching him as he rediscovered the wife he never stopped loving. Slowly he learns to bend enough to meet her halfway.

It's not a flawless book. The suspense element is wrapped up a bit too easily at the end to fit into the brief word count, but, as with most Presents titles, the couple is more interesting than the plot.

One of the reasons that I wanted to write about this book in particular is the surprising things about this book. The heroine is Chinese. She's the first Asian Presents heroine I can recall reading and it really worked well here. It defined many things about Jianne's character.  Hunter even uses the language on the page to evoke that musical cadence that native Chinese speakers have when they talk.

The hero isn't wealthy. He's not a business tycoon at all. Make no mistake he's successful by any measure, except that of the Presents hero. And the heroine? Tons of money. Loads more than her husband. And Jacob has a problem with this the way many men would. What's more, the antagonist is more the model for traditional Presents hero: an absurdly wealthy man who won't take no for an answer. A delicious bit of irony there. And yet Jacob is clearly cut from the same cloth as the Presents hero. 

Honestly it didn't bother me at all. The money thing actually added depth to the conflict between Jianne and Jacob. It all ended up feel surprising unpredictable. It seems to me that the category romances that I've read lately have been surprisingly fresh and innovative, while still honoring what I see as the core of expectations. Sharing the shelves this month with Hunter's book are other books that even from the blurb are clever twists on the traditional tropes.  One has a secret pregnancy that happens through IVF; the parents had never even met. Another has the book opening with the heroine rescuing the hero from drowning. I love the play on our assumptions that is occurring here. That just means my TBR pile is growing taller.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Pretty Posterboard

So I have my lovely posterboard filled with multi-colored post-its. I actually do feel that I noticed things about the book doing it this way. (Yes, Lani you were right.)

Anna DeStefano has a great post up about editing. It's filled with questions to ask about a scene as you are editing.

The ever smart Kristin Lamb has a post on structure which I'll be refer to more than a couple of times I think.

And, in case all this editing is making you feel a bit defeated, remember to be kind to yourself.

Monday, April 11, 2011

You're Not Alone in your Despair

Editing is hard. It's difficult to find fault with a manuscript I loved so much while I was writing it. It's painful to accept the changes that ought to be made to improve the book. Just because I can see that it's going to be better doesn't mean that I like having to make those changes.

 Some of the changes are simple. I have several characters whose names begin with the same letter. That can quickly become confusing to the reader so some of those names are getting changed. Some of the changes are more complicated. I have a cast of a gazillion minor characters. Some will be merged into a single character. Some will sadly have to go.

And some of the changes are more complicated. My hero does something that doesn't really work. Can I give him a better motivation for his action? Will it be better to cut that part altogether? Does that scene work better if I move it later in the story? Those are the kind of things that can leave you doubting yourself and your book. That is the struggle that is editing.

Storywonk's revision class was very useful in trying to organize the process. Lani has a podcast where she talks about what we learned in the class. You can listen to the podcast as streaming video or download it as an mp3.

In brief, Lani says you have an opening scene, three turning points, a climax and a resolution. These things are sometimes given different names by different people, but when defined, they refer to more or less the same thing. The turning points are simply the scene that ends one act and sets up the problem for the following act.

Most stories and books, plays and movies have a three act structure. In simplest terms, a beginning, a middle and an end. It sounds so simple and really it is pretty straightforward. In theory anyway.

If you click through the links on three act structure, you'll see that the Harlequin article uses a movie as an example and Paula Graves refers to a book on screen writing. Take their advice and really spend some time thinking about the story structure in the movie or TV show you are watching. It's easier to see the structure in a movie. It's shorter than most books and the turning points are often clear. So you can sit on the sofa, eating popcorn and claim that you are working.

The nifty posterboard is to hold post-its for all of my scenes. I've got all my stuff and I've made all my notes. Now I get to make something pretty.

Friday, April 8, 2011


I finished the first draft of my work in progress. I set it aside for a little bit. That was hard, but well worth the effort. I spent the time off going to the beach with the kids and reading tons. Sadly, I think I added even more to the TBR list than I crossed off.

Now the real work on the book begins. I took a class with Lani Dianne Rich on revising a manuscript that gave me a road map of how to do this. I'm nearly done with my first read through the book. I've been taking pages of notes and I've got my post-its all ready to map out the plot. I'm going to do a variation of my classmate Kay Elam's posterboard.

Mine will lack the detailed notes, color coded sticky dots and visual representation of the rising action of the story arc. I'll make do with a few post-its on the wall. But I'm hoping that being able to look at the story like this will give me a good feel for how the pace of the book is slow or perhaps too fast. During the class, I just did this in Scrivener (despite Lani's excellent advice not to), but I think this might be a different and easier experience. Should have listened to Lani.

I struggled revising the book I had finished before Lani's class, but I am still ever so glad that I took it. I learned so much about pacing and the structure of a novel just clicked for me that I can't believe how much easier this draft has been to write. So far the editing is easier, too. Lani is offering a free spot in one of next month's classes, in case you're feeling lucky.

I'm lucky that I have some writer friends who are editing as well, so I have no shortage of moral support. Teresa is even blogging about her editing as she goes along. It can seem a bit overwhelming to have a whole book to revise the first time, but there is a lot of advice out there when you get stuck.

Any other great editing advice?

ETA: Serenity Woods reminded me of a helpful page on her blog about editing.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Writing Challenges

The last few weeks I've been hanging out on Twitter a lot. It's not what you think. I'm not procrastinating. OK, I'm not alway procrastinating on Twitter. I have been following the 1k1hr hashtag. Writers jump in and try to write a thousand words in a single hour and then come back and report the outcome. It's been wonderfully productive for me. I finished my first draft, writing at a pace that I hadn't duplicated since NaNo. More importantly, it didn't feel like work at all. I'm far enough along in the book that I won't be doing much in the way of 1k1hr for a while. Which sounds like a wonderful thing, but I'm a bit conflicted.  I'm a bit disappointed not to have the camaraderie and motivation of  my writing buddies.

I saw the link to this  blog via @Lili_Tufel  and it got me thinking about why the 1k1hr challenges worked so well for me. The author raises some really good problems with these writing sprints or even the longer challenge of something like NaNo. Some of the ways I deal with these problems were just luck, but some were a choice and some where the result of the cool writers that are doing 1k1hr.

The race is the point I think part of the appeal of contests for unpublished writers is that external deadline. It is hard for me to make the writing a real priority when there is no deadline. It's pretty easy to ignore the writing and  distant goals in favor of the army of dust bunnies invading my house and the piles of laundry right in front of me. For me the fact that I have to check back in at the end of the hour means that I can ignore the phone and emails for a bit and just focus. Pushing hard, knowing everyone else is writing, gives me that extra competitiveness to get writing. I don't always win. There are a couple of writers who I know will double my word count most days. The wining isn't the point, it's the race that pushes me to try harder.

The quality varies Some days I read over what I wrote and I'm very pleased. Other days I know I'm going to delete half of it. But the other half is something unexpected and wonderful. All of it could use some tightening, but I tend to be pretty wordy in the best of circumstances. The easiest scenes to write that quickly are the ones where I know just what happens and I just type the words. But some of the best things I've written have been when I have a crap word count and little idea of what comes next.

Huge pressure for only 60 minutes For an hour you are writing full out.  Sometimes the time flies by too quickly. Sometimes I am interrupted. Sometimes I can't believe the time is up because I've been so caught up in the story. Sometimes I am counting the minutes at the end trying to put enough words on the page to get even close to a thousand. But if I don't make 1K, I don't worry about it. The other participants cheer when you've hit the goal, but are quick to point out that even if it's only 500 words, it's 500 new words. Or even 250. If it goes well, I'm extra happy and there are people to celebrate with. If it doesn't go well, I just let it go. I do another sprint. Or just figure that tomorrow is another day.

I think at the end of it, that is what makes the 1k1hr work so well for me. Even if it is a complete failure, it was only an hour. If I delete the entire scene because I want to go in a different direction, it was just an hour of my life. That doesn't seem such a terrible commitment.