Fireworks

One of my favorite things about the Fourth of July is fireworks.   I’ve been to my share of sporting events with Big Bang shows after and theme parks aplenty. I’ve seen the various fireworks shows at Disneyland often enough that I know them by heart.  Fireworks, quite frankly, are awesome.

 

Which brings me to romance.  ‘Cause it’s all about the fireworks. That’s one of the main reasons we read romance, we’ve bought our tickets and we want to see stuff explode in a myriad of pretty colors.  When writing romance there are lessons we can learn from the real gunpowder-based fireworks about how our fictional fireworks show should go off.

Here are my top four:

(Please note that when I’m talking about fictional fireworks I am not necessarily talking about sex, or even kissing, but the way characters react to each other when they’re in like/love.  There can (and should be) fireworks in the tamest romance about two Amish characters.  This disclaimer brought to you by me.)

Anticipation.  We all know the fireworks are coming.  We’ve amassed in front of Sleeping Beauty’s (or Cinderella’s) castle for a reason.  The lights have gone down and we are waiting with baited breath.  I mean, yeah it’s fun to be driving down the freeway and see some random yahoo launching fireworks into the sky…but it’s more of a “oh hey, look at that,” moment as opposed to an “I can’t wait for this!” moment.  Just the fact that we’ve put our book in the “romance” genre means that we’ve promised our readers some kind of fireworks (please see above disclaimer).  And the whole first part of our story capitalizes on that same anticipation.  This is why some erotica is different from romance in my mind.  It’s more like driving by the side-of-the-freeway-fireworks.  I’m not saying, it can’t be entertaining, there’s just less anticipation.  And anticipation is a good thing!

The Right Mix.  You need to have the right mix of elements that will react to create dazzling fireworks.  In the case of actual fireworks that’s gunpowder, oxidizer, and colorants…and even more gunpowder in the first stage to launch it up into the sky.  (If you’re nerdy like me, check out this article and this article to read about how fireworks work.  It’s cool.)  In the case of romance, you need characters, plot, and tension.  Very few people want to read a story that consists of “two people met, went on a few dates, fell in love, the end.”  You need characters that readers care about, a realistic plot, and the tension to provide the spark that sets it all off.  My favorite line from the chemistry.about.com article says about gunpowder: “The materials will react with each other when enough heat is applied.”

Yes.  Yes, they will.

Now, I’m not saying this is easy – and notice I’m giving you no writing tips to help you along, because I’m helpful like that.  I just want you to know that if you’re feeling like this is a hard task, you’re right.  If you’re feeling like it could blow up in your face or fizzle out at any moment, you’re right.  Wow. Not only am I super helpful, I’m also super uplifting.  My point is: this isn’t easy.  I feel your pain.  Don’t throw your computer out the window.  We’ve all been there.  Solidarity.

Timing.  It’s all about timing.  If the firework exploded before it got launched into the air it would not be cool. People might even die.  Luckily, you’re not gonna kill anyone if your timing sucks! Yay!  But with the right timing, fireworks are awe-inducing.  And if you’re super fancy you can coordinate with music and inspire patriotism and sometimes (if you’re lucky) tears and kids holding their hands over their ears and screaming in terror.  Good times.  Here again is where the line between romance and erotica gets drawn in my mind – erotica is all about the bang (yes, I did), and romance is more about the artfully choreographed show.

In romance the timing is about giving your readers time enough to care about the characters and the characters time enough to care about (or at least be attracted to) each other…and then…

Boom.

Construction.  This is quite possibly the most important element of fireworks.  Much like with the timing issue, a poorly constructed firework can also lead to death…and maiming.  Or it can just refuse to go off and no matter how hard you hit it with a hammer it will continue to lay impotently in the middle of the street (side note: this is an actual story from my childhood during which we had family friends that constructed their own fireworks.  I do not condone hitting unexploded fireworks with a hammer.)  Aerial fireworks are shells that are packed with black powder, a bursting charge, and “stars” which are like their own little sparklers.  There are even multibreak shells which are more complicated and break in several phases.  They way the stars are packed determine what kind of visual display you will get.  Here’s a tip: most romances should consist of a multibreak shell – sometimes it’s that breath between explosions that make them even more awesome – and the stars should be really bright, colorful, and fizzy.

I’d like to tell you there’s a magic formula for creating fictional fireworks, that you can follow instructions and get it right every time.  Unfortunately, that’s not true.  And that’s part of the reason why I haven’t included helpful tips for achieving the right levels of anticipation, or told you just the right way to mix the proper elements…there’s no right way.  Every author is going to find a different way to do it – and probably a different way to approach it with every story.  No two stories are the same and each deserves it’s very own fireworks show!

What are your favorite kind of fireworks (fictional or otherwise)?

Guest Post: Plot Setting – Romance and the English Country House

Several years ago, I was bicycling on the Biltmore Estate, which is located in my hometown of Asheville, NC. As I peddled along the riverbank on a cool, late summer afternoon, with leaves crunching under my wheels, I gazed admiringly upon George Vanderbilt’s grand home, nestled on the hill above the reflecting pond. The sky above the house was a perfect cerulean blue and cloudless other than a couple of white streaks left by airplanes, approaching or leaving the small Asheville airport. Of course, being a long-time admirer of Jane Austen, my first thought was of the famous, fictional Pemberley House. I mused for a moment of a Pemberley long ago—in Miss Austen’s Regency era—and then of a Pemberley in more modern times. It occurred to me that if the Biltmore Estate could be still privately owned by the family who built the house more than one hundred years ago, then couldn’t the Darcys still be residing at Pemberley, the setting where Elizabeth came to better understand and fully embrace her true love for Fitzwilliam Darcy? It could happen!
It was then and there—on that bicycle—that the setting for my novel, Echoes of Pemberley, was born.

 

Although I have since traveled to the United Kingdom, when I started writing a trip abroad was impossible. So I sat down and ordered English magazines such as, The English Home and The English Garden. I purchased or checked out books like Mark Girouard’s, Life in the English Country House and Debrett’s New Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners by John Morgan…just to name a few. And lastly, I started watching a great deal of British television on my local PBS station. If a modern Pemberley Estate was going to be my setting and modern Brits my characters, I wanted to get it as right as possible.

 

Returning to my title: Romance and the English Country House—the perfect recipe for the birth of a love story. Why? It strikes me that what romance and grand English estates like Chatsworth or Lyme Park—both used as Pemberley in movie adaptations—have in common is a sense of timelessness. They both invoke a gamut of emotions and conjure feelings that anything is possible. When I sat down and created Darcy and Elizabeth’s descendants—each fitting progenies of their ancestors—nowhere else could I start their saga but at Pemberley House. Like Miss Austen did in Pride and Prejudice, I wanted to create a love story that was ageless and enduring. Although my prose more humble by far, in my novels, Echoes of Pemberley and its sequel The Heart Does Whisper (soon to be released), it was my hope to continue Pride and Prejudice—to write a modern-day sequel that generations later brings the reader back to Pemberley Estate and the rolling, green hills of Derbyshire. It is in this setting that young, hopeless romantic, Catherine Darcy stares upon the oil paintings of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam, her Regency grandparents, and dreams of a love from another time…a time when romance was still romantic. In Echoes of Pemberley and The Heart Does Whisper, we pay homage to the past while embarking upon a new journey and discover along the way that romance isn’t a relic of a bygone era. Quite the contrary…for Catie Darcy love is just beginning.

 

*****

Cynthia Ingram Hensley was born in Asheville, North Carolina. Growing up in the shadow of George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate, Cynthia has always had an affinity for large, old homes and the lives of the people living within. It was this affinity coupled with her love of Jane Austen that inspired her to write her first novel Echoes of Pemberley. Cynthia is a descendent of the early Scotch-Irish settlers to the Western North Carolina Mountains. When she isn’t writing she enjoys researching her ancestry or doing projects on her own historic property, a 1926 Colonial Revival near the small town of Hendersonville, NC where she resides with her husband.  You can connect with Cynthia on her website, Facebook, or Twitter.

Review and Giveaway: The Wrong Woman

I have my klutzy moments.  I’ve taken more tumbles while hiking than I care to recite, tumbles which have become more frequent since I became friends with the Queen of Klutzy, Jessica Grey (not saying there’s a connection there but the timing is suspect).  Falling is embarrassing, especially in public when you feel censure that doesn’t necessarily happen.  Whenever I read about presentations at court during the Regency Period, I always wonder how they managed not to trip on those ridiculous trains, and I whether all that back kicking really worked.  You will be presented to the monarch and expected to walk backward gracefully in a gown with a train without tripping.  No pressure!

At her introduction into society, Isobel Masters takes a tumble and a foolish young Miles, Baron Revere, uses that incident to turn her into a laughingstock haunted by that night and the nickname he bestowed upon her, Dizzy Izzy.

 

 

Nearly ten years later, Izzy lives with her aunt.  Her experiences in her first season have caused her to fear public engagements similar to the one where she became humiliated.  While she tries to avoid her tormenter, she is unable to avoid him when he begins to court her younger sister, Catherine.  Izzy loves her sister but after Catherine pleads to Izzy if she could be civil to the man courting her.  In the process of attempting to be nice to her beloved sister’s possible future husband, Izzy and Lord Revere get to see that their preconceived notions about each other were incorrect.  Lord Revere is eager to right his wrongs and sees Izzy in a new light.  He never expected to lose his heart to the elder sister of the girl he was courting.


However, Lord Revere’s past tricks seem to be catching up on him.  So will a scheming person from his past destroy his chances of being with the woman he loves?

After having an antagonistic relationship for nearly ten years of, Miles and Izzy must both try to be nice to each other because Izzy loves her sister and Miles hopes to marry Catherine.  In the process of finding out that their preconceived notions about each other were wrong, Miles and Izzy end up falling for each other.  I love Izzy because she’s not the cliche heroine from a Regency romance.  She is thirty, chubby, and acting as a chaperone to the young and beautiful Catherine.  Miles had no idea the effect his bullying would have on Izzy and when he sees that despite behind her facade, he hurt her deeply and is making amends.  It was such a beautiful, breathtaking, and well-written love story.

Personally, love at first sight stories where everyone is beautiful is not my preferred type of romance.  If like me you prefer a book where an understanding of each other’s characters, especially after previous negative experiences, is where the beauty is found, The Wrong Woman by Kimberly Truesdale is for you.

 

Five out of five stars.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Attempting Elizabeth by Jessica Grey

Yes, folks, Indie Jane’s very own Jessica Grey has finally published her first Austen adaptation and It. Is. Glorious.

“I don’t want to go Mr. Darcy hunting. I only end up with Wickhams.” ~ Attempting Elizabeth, Chapter 1

Attempting Elizabeth is the story of Kelsey Edmundson, a literature grad student who doesn’t know where her life is going. After a bad break up, she is distrustful of men and of herself. Luckily, she finds solace in the pages of her favorite novel, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  Kelsey dreams of one day finding a Mr. Darcy instead of the usual Wickhams she gets stuck with.

 

 

But when Kelsey’s roommate and best friend Tori drags her to a party to meet someone new, Kelsey promptly puts her foot in her mouth and almost ruins her chance with Mark Barnes, a hunky Australian teacher turned barkeep-for-the-night, who might just turn out to be her Mr. Darcy.

Mark keeps showing up in her life, however, and he seems willing to give Kelsey a second chance. The problem, as she sees it, is that she can’t seem to be anything but awkward and nerdy around him. She doubts herself. And when she sees a beautiful woman fawning over him one night, she doubts him.

And so, as she always does, Kelsey returns to Pride and Prejudice, falling asleep with dreams of Mr. Darcy in her head.

But when she wakes up something is not right. She is not in her comfortable bed. Instead, she seems to be a drawing room with a woman who keeps calling her Georgiana and referring to a man named Wickham.

It doesn’t take long for Kelsey to figure out that she’s somehow jumped into one of the characters in her favorite novel. At first she’s excited. But as she repeats the same day over and over again, she begins to wonder if this has turned from a delightful dream into some nightmare version of Groundhog Day. This superpower she thought she wanted might not be as awesome as she expected… especially when the real world and a certain hunky Australian starts to look more and more appealing.

Where to begin in telling you about this book? There’s so much to love in Grey’s sci-fi, time travel, book jumping, Austenesque, modern chick novel. The plethora of categories doesn’t even describe it.

Grey has a talent for writing witty, warm female characters (and making them dyed in the wool nerds, too). (For other examples of great female characters, see especially her excellent collection of short stories, Views from the Tower.) She shines here with Kelsey, who is instantly likeable and still frustrating enough at times that I wanted to shake her. (Just admit that you like Mark, already!)

Kelsey is like your sarcastic best friend. On the outside she is proud and generally pretty fun to be with. She appealed to me because she thinks she knows it all at the beginning, but her story arc involves discovering her vulnerability. And she doesn’t have to go through the wringer to do it.

And Mark Barnes, a hunk of an Australian smarty-pants straight out of fantasy land, is a supportive and understanding man. The kind most of us hope to find. But he is not perfect. And that works really well here. Mark makes a great partner for Kelsey.

The greatest strength of this novel, though, is Grey’s ability to mash-up Kelsey’s modern sarcasm and hilarious internal monologue with Austen’s comedy — and sometimes, we learn, almost tragedy — of manners. Kelsey’s attempts to get out of Pride and Prejudice are both funny and desperate. And her thoughts about the “minor” characters in the book will keep you giggling with delight.

But perhaps the best scenes in the book happen when Kelsey lands in Caroline Bingley, a character we all love to hate. The juxtaposition of having to act out the character of Caroline at the same time that she’s at a distance judging her makes for some funny and touching reading.

Even in the midst of building a world around jumping into the novel, Grey successfully maneuvers her characters through realistic emotional arcs. Kelsey, for all her confidence, has a lot to learn about herself. Being able to get into the novel doesn’t magically solve her problems as she thinks it will. She doesn’t fall instantly in love with Mr. Darcy. At times, she is downright mad to be stuck in the book and scared that she might never get back to her real life. And Mark, for all his caring, has a lot to learn about trust.

It’s impossible to describe just how Grey weaves all these threads all together, but they come out looking like a beautiful piece of embroidery.

And the payoff at the end… well, I will only say that it’s a Happily Ever After of the Best Kind.

5 out of 5 Tight T-shirts on Mark Barnes

Do You Want Sex With That?

How sexy do you like your fiction?

I’ve just finished writing my second novel, called The Wrong Woman. Like My Dear Sophy, it’s a Regency-era romance. Now, this genre carries a lot on its shoulders. You’ve got the manners, the society, the clothing, the transport, the classes, and most of all, the question of sex.

I’ve read a lot of historical romances – mostly Regency – and there tends to be a lot of what I call “sexy sex”. You know, the kind that gets you hot and bothered. The kind that you need to read in your room alone (or with a partner willing to role play…). The kind most of us only dream about…

 

 

But is it appropriate?

As an author in this genre, I think about this question constantly: do I want sex with that?

In my latest book, I had to carefully consider whether my characters should have “sexy sex”. I thought about this question in a number of ways:

  • Do I want to write sex scenes? And can I do a good job of it? Could I write something that didn’t feel like it’d been done before?
  • Will sex serve the development of these characters and this story?
  • How will my audience feel about sex in this story?

Ultimately, in answering all of these questions, I came to the conclusion that for this novel, “sexy sex” was not in the cards. Instead, I went with a milder – but no less enticing, in my opinion – form of sensuality that I like to call “eye sex”. Think of the time when Darcy locks eyes with Elizabeth over the piano or Captain Wentworth stares at Anne. Just thinking about it sends shivers down my spine…

But even though I’ve answered this question for the novel I’ve just finished, now I’m starting on the second in my Sophy series. My characters are newly married and clearly way into each other. So the question returns: do I want sex with that?

Only writing will tell.

What’s your take on this question? Do you like your historical fiction with a little spice? Or do you prefer the restraint of more traditional Jane Austen novels?