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)?

Feeding Your Creativity

I blogged earlier this month on my author site about declaring 2014 the Year of the Girlfriend – making a serious effort to spend time with my friends even though most of them live far away from me.  Not only am I making it a goal to interact with my friends in person but to make sure I spend time each day filling up the “social void” that consumes extroverts like myself.

 

Carving out time to spend with my friends is about more than just having fun, it’s about helping to replenish my well of creativity…I am a very social person and a social writer.  I love talking through ideas and plots with other people.  I love hearing other people’s creative ideas and what they’re working on – even if it has nothing to do with writing.  These are the kinds of things that inspire me to be a better writer.

 

This is how I feel after I spend time recharging with friends. Also, I wish I looked this cute in short overalls. But really, nobody looks this cute in short overalls.

 

 

Spending time with friends will affect my writing for much longer (and much more reliably and healthily) than holing up by myself with my laptop and gallons of coffee and trying to pound out the words.  I’ve known this about myself for a long time but I haven’t yet made it a priority – to nourish and feed the source of creativity instead of just demanding production from myself.

 

Everyone’s creativity gets fed in different ways.  For some the thought of of big social type events is more scary than relaxing…I’m an extrovert who was raised by introverts, so I understand differing levels of social needs!  The important thing is to discover what replenishes you creatively and then make it a priority.   I encourage you to do that this year.

 

What helps feed your creativity? Let me know in the comments!

Let It Go

One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to look at my writing process differently.  I am a huge perfectionist and this can cause serious problems especially in the early stages of a new project.  How can I make it as perfect as it is in my head? There is always a brain/fingers disconnect – the gorgeous movie reel I see in my mind never quite translates correctly into typed words.

Fellow Indie Janeite Kimberly Truesdale wrote an amazing post called Precious Prose in which she talks about trying to make her words less “precious” to her.  This quote really spoke to me:

 

As writers, we get attached to our words. We often get caught up in word count and in getting things just right. We can linger over one word for a long time, wondering if it truly expresses all that we mean to say, and terrified that there’s another word out there that might do the job better than the one we have. We can linger the same way over sentences, paragraphs, chapters, worrying them until they are unrecognizable

 

Kim then goes onto talk about the value of the finish – of getting things DONE.  So much goodness in this post, make sure to go read it.  I want to use Kim’s point about making our prose less precious to us because this is something she and I are trying to hold each other accountable for.

 

It’s hard to put into words what my actual goal for the year is.  I joke that it is “writing ALL THE WORDS” but it is more than that.  It’s more than just substantially increasing my output or writing books at a quicker pace…I have so many stories living in my head, but sometimes the sheer amount of potential story scares me…The actual goal, I think, is letting go.  That letting go is twofold – one part is prying the claws of perfectionism out of my own mind, and the other is giving up the overly emotional attachment I have to those words.

 

What I am NOT advocating is putting out unedited work (I’ve been super clear about this in the past, but I feel it has to be said again).  I have actual nightmares about finding typos in published books.  I am, however, advocating thinking differently about the writing and editing process – and possibly truncating both.  I know my own potential and limits and I want to push through those limits and expand the boundaries of my potential.

 

I’m starting with limiting the amount of time I spend on a rough draft.  You cannot know the true potential of a story until it’s down on paper (or in a word processing document).  The story is what is important here; not what words are perfect, not poetry, not a lovely turn of phrase – the story.

 

I’m also going to shorten my rewriting and editing phases.  Again, this doesn’t mean I skip any of those phases, it doesn’t mean I put out unedited work, it means I put story ahead of pretty words. I can edit forever.  Literally forever.  I would love to pull Awake off sale right now and slash about 20 thousand words out of it.  It’s true!  It was my first novel and I’ve learned so much more about story-telling since I wrote it.  But it’s out there and I have to accept that – and not just accept it but embrace it and build on it.

 

You never get better if you never move on.

 

Whatever project I’m working on right now doesn’t have to end up being perfect, just as good as I can get it right now. And then I need to let it go.  Let it live its own life out in the world and not stress about how it could have been slightly more awesome if only I’d done a, b, or c.

 

And now for a video clip.

 

 

File under: Jess is looking for ways to tie Frozen into EVERYTHING she talks about…and this song is perfect.

 

One thing I love about Elsa’s character development in Frozen is that she’s not really sure what she’s capable of until she starts really using her power.  When she spends too much time about controlling it the power fights her, consumes her.  When she finally embraces it and puts it out there for the world to see she realizes she’s capable of so much more than she ever dreamed.

 

So that’s my goal for they year: embrace the fact that I have a million stories clamoring for attention in my head, don’t be afraid of writing ALL the words, don’t expect them to be perfect but don’t be afraid of the work of making them the best they can be, and then finally of letting go of the story.

 

What say you? Do you struggle with perfectionism?  What are your writing process goals for this year?

Feeding Your Creativity

I blogged earlier this month on my author site about declaring 2014 the Year of the Girlfriend – making a serious effort to spend time with my friends even though most of them live far away from me.  This coming weekend marks the first of my girlfriend travel events as I go to Portland to hang out with my Indie Jane partners in crime Nancy and Patty.

 

Carving out time to spend with my friends is about more than just having fun, it’s about helping to replenish my well of creativity…I am a very social person and a social writer.  I love talking through ideas and plots with other people.  I love hearing other people’s creative ideas and what they’re working on – even if it has nothing to do with writing.  These are the kinds of things that inspire me to be a better writer.

 

This is how I feel after I spend time recharging with friends. Also, I wish I looked this cute in short overalls. But really, nobody looks this cute in short overalls.

 

 

A weekend of spending time with friends will affect my writing for much longer (and much more reliably and healthily) than holing up by myself with my laptop and gallons of coffee and trying to pound out the words.  I’ve known this about myself for a long time but I haven’t yet made it a priority – to nourish and feed the source of creativity instead of just demanding production from myself.

 

Everyone’s creativity gets fed in different ways.  For some the thought of of big social type events is more scary than relaxing…I’m an extrovert who was raised by introverts, so I understand differing levels of social needs!  The important thing is to discover what replenishes you creatively and then make it a priority!   I encourage you to do that this year!

 

What helps feed your creativity? Let me know in the comments!

Friday Fun: On the Writing Playlist

This month I’ve been working on completing the first draft of Sun, Moon, Stars my retelling of the fairy tale Allerleirauh (or All-Kinds-of-Fur).  It’s my own personal national novel writing month (which I refer to in my head as JessNoWriMo because why not?).  I almost always listen to music while I write and usually it has lyrics, but I’ve been doing some soundtrack listening this month to get in the fairy tale writing mood.

 

Here are the soundtracks I’ve had on replay:

 

 

I’m straight up obsessed with the Frozen soundtrack.  The movie is also spectacular.

 

 

There’s such a sweet wildness to the music on this soundtrack. I think it also helps my process that the music from both this and Frozen suggest strong female protagonists.

 

 

Nothing can put you in the mood for writing fantasy like the music from Lord of the Rings.  Howard Shore is a master.

 

So what’s on your writing (or general life) playlist this month?  Share in the comments!

Guest Post: A Little Chocolate with my Jane Austen

I must confess, one of my favorite parts of writing historical fiction is the research. Yes, I know, I’m strange, but I’ve just learned to embrace that and go with it. One of my favorite pieces of research in my most recent book was chocolate. Yes, I got to research chocolate! How much fun—and far fewer calories—is that?

 

It was a little disappointing to find little chocolate candy existed in the regency era. French cookbooks dating from 1750 contained recipes for chocolate disks sprinkled with nonpareils (I totally love these!), chocolate truffles(and these too!) and fudge-like chocolate conserve. Recipes for ices, ice creams, custards and various pastries and tarts abounded in English cookery books.  But the very best chocolate candies would not grace Regency tables. In the Regency era chocolate generally referred to drinking chocolate.

 

Somehow, it isn’t surprising to learn that preparing drinking chocolate was a time consuming, labor intensive process, beyond the means of many, particularly if started from dried cacao nibs.

 

Hannah Glasse offered several recipes for preparing the nibs for use including this one:

 

TAKE fix pounds of the best Spanish nuts, when parched, and cleaned, from the hulls, take three pounds of sugar, two ounces of the best cinnamon, beaten and sifted very fine; to every two pound of nuts put in three good vanelas, or more or less as you please; to every pound of nuts half a drachm of cardamom-seeds, very finely beaten and searced.

 

These recipes, which might also include cardamom, aniseed, cloves, bergamot, produced a hard, gritty chocolate tablet. A few people ate them straight as a type of candy, but most believed they would cause indigestion if eaten in that form.  These tablets were usually used to make drinking chocolate.

 

First, a specialty chocolate grater would be used to shave the chocolate tablet. The powdered chocolate would be added to a large pan containing water, milk or possibly a mixture of water and wine or water and brandy and place over heat.

 

The chocolate/liquid mixture would be brought to a boil, while constantly stirring to prevent scorching. After it came to a boil, eggs, flour, corn starch or even bread might be added to the mixture to thicken it. The cook then used a special tool, known in England as a chocolate mill (in France a molinet, in Spain a molinilla) to incorporate all the ingredients together. Don’t get out the chocolate cups yet, we’re not done.

 

After beating, the pot was returned to the heat and brought to a boil again, while stirring constantly, of course. At this stage, cream might be added. The chocolate mill would be employed once more to fully blend the mixture and raise the necessary head of froth to top the delicacy.

 

The finished drinking chocolate would be transferred to a special chocolate pot for service. A chocolate pot was taller and straighter than a tea pot, with a shorter spout than a coffee pot, placed high on the pot. It also sported a hinged finial on the lid to allow a coffee mill to be used while the lid was down to prevent splashing while it was mixed once again.

 

Chocolate cups were taller and narrower than coffee or tea cups. Their unique shape made them more likely to spill, so special saucers known as coffee stands developed to steady the unstable cups.

 

My arms ache just thinking about all that stirring and mixing.  No wonder chocolate houses were so popular—all the chocolate, none of the stirring. A visit to a chocolate house featured in my newest book, take a look:

 

 

 

 

 

A large sign painted with a blue china cup hung above the chocolate house’s door. Kitty rushed inside and dropped into a seat, breathless and wide-eyed. How did one tolerate such a crush of people on the streets? Though Meryton had its poor, the small children begging so forcefully sent her diving behind Mrs. Hartwell’s skirts. No wonder Mr. Darcy preferred the country. How did fine ladies become accustomed to this?

“I could sit here all day and drink in that fragrance.” Miss Darcy drew a deep breath.

Kitty closed her eyes and savored the exotic spices woven amongst the whiffs of chocolate, tobacco and coffee. They hung in the air and draped in great cascading folds over the bare ceiling rafters. She could almost imagine herself somewhere quiet and peaceful.

“Have you a chocolate house in Meryton?”

“The coffee house serves chocolate, too. I rather like the scent of coffee and chocolate together.” Kitty bit her lip. Was that an ignorant thing to say?

“I do as well.” Mrs. Hartwell smiled.

A young woman, in a white apron dotted with drops of chocolate and splashes of coffee tied over a drab dress, took their order and scurried off. Cheery, well-dressed people filled almost every table, and none stared with thinly veiled disapproval or whispered behind their hands whilst looking at her. London did have its virtues.

“I brought my friend Miss Lackley here whilst we visited my aunt, and she declared it the best chocolate. She has returned to Derbyshire now, but I will introduce you to her when we get there. You will like her ever so well. She is very pretty and keeps house for her brother. Mr. Lackley is a fine gentleman—”

“Miss Darcy? Miss Bennet?”

Kitty jumped and turned. It was not possible—that voice!

“Mr. Bingley!” Miss Darcy rose.

Kitty followed suit and managed a curtsey without falling over. It was awkward and not worthy of a Catherine, but she could manage nothing better whilst her heart raced and face flushed to the point of dizziness.

“Mr. Bingley, may I introduce my companion, Mrs. Hartwell?”

He bowed so gracefully, he might have been on the dance floor.

“Do sit with us, Mr. Bingley. My brother would insist.” Miss Darcy sat down with a great show of smoothing her skirts.

“What a pleasant surprise to see all of you.” His smile had not changed at all!

He looked at her, blue eyes twinkling and warm as ever. Did he still wish for her acquaintance?

It had been Louisa who stopped writing, after all. So it was possible. Her face tingled, and she lost all power of speech.

Miss Darcy cleared her throat. “I did not know you were in London, Mr. Bingley. I wish my brother would have told me.”

Mr. Bingley still had that odd little curl, just so, over his forehead and the single dimple in his left cheek. The crinkles beside his eyes remained unaltered, as did the tiny mark on his left earlobe.

Mrs. Hartwell cocked her head, eyebrows creeping to meet the lace on her cap.

Oh dear, she had been staring. Best she say something soon. But what? “Your sisters, sir, are they well?”

“My sisters?” His cheeks darkened and he tugged the edge of his collar. “Caroline—she is much as she ever was. She continues with our aunt in Scarborough.” He squeezed his eyes shut for the briefest of moments.

“And Louisa?”

He released his collar and the creases left his forehead. “Hurst’s sisters invited her to stay with them. He should arrive from the continent at the end of next month.”

“I trust her visit a pleasant one.”

“Indeed. She is so pleased in their company she has barely written me. I think I have received but one letter from her. You know what a diligent correspondent she usually is.” He chuckled.

Kitty laughed because he did. Louisa had not written him either? She clutched the edge of the tablecloth.

He blinked at her.

She must respond! “Mr. Hurst is to return next month? How wonderful for her. I recall she thought it would be much longer. Have they decided on a wedding date?”

Miss Darcy twitched like Lydia left out of a conversation. But what did she expect? It was only polite for Kitty to ask. Was it not?

“Mr. Hurst is my sister’s betrothed. He has been away on the continent for business.”

“I see. I did not know you knew Mr. Bingley or his sisters, Catherine.” Miss Darcy’s voice took on a thin, sharp edge.

Mr. Bingley stared at Kitty, brow drawn.

“I had not thought to tell you. We all met in Meryton. Do you not remember? Louisa was at the wedding. Miss Caroline—”

Mr. Bingley winced.

“—was already in Scarborough by then and was…unable to return for the wedding.” Not that anyone minded Miss Caroline’s absence. Kitty peeked at Mr. Bingley who closed his eyes and nodded.

“So will you go to Scarborough for the holidays?” Miss Darcy asked.

“No—”

Kitty gasped. “You will be alone?”

“Actually, Darcy invited me to Pemberley for Christmastide.”

Kitty’s jaw dropped in what must have been a most unladylike expression, but she could not force it closed.

“Yes.” He reached into his pocket, his smile brighter and broader. “In fact, I called at Darcy House earlier this morning—”

The girl arrived, laden with a chocolate pot, cups and a plate of miniature gooseberry tarts. “I took the liberty of bringing an extra cup, Miss, seein’ the gentleman here with you.” She curtsied.

Miss Darcy glanced at Mr. Bingley and batted her eyes.

Mr. Bingley pulled back slightly and looked at Kitty “Ah…yes…thank you. I should enjoy that.”

Did Miss Darcy have an interest Mr. Bingley? What was the nature of their acquaintance? Why had he come to join them?

The girl placed the pot on the table. She grabbed the chocolate mill and spun it furiously between her palms. Hot perfume rose from the chocolate pot, traces of cinnamon, nutmeg and anise wove into a heady blend. She poured four cups, each topped with a head of bubbling froth.

“Oh, yes. I was saying I left my card since you were not at home.” Mr. Bingley glanced at the paper in his hand as though he had forgotten why it was there. “Darcy wrote me and suggested we might make the trip together. Mrs. Darcy is concerned with her sisters journeying alone, even in the presence of the formidable Darcy footmen.” He chuckled. “He suggested, Mrs. Hartwell, you might wish to see the request in his own hand.” He passed the folded missive to her.

Mrs. Hartwell nodded as she read and handed the letter back. “Mr. Darcy is most solicitous toward us all. He sent me a letter, which came just this morning, alerting me to this possibility.”

Miss Darcy’s jaw dropped. “Truly?” She turned to Mr. Bingley. “You will journey with us to Pemberley?”

Mr. Bingley fixed his gaze on Kitty. “Darcy has asked me to.”

Her cheeks heated. “I think we shall have a very pleasant journey.”

“Indeed we shall!” Miss Darcy bounced. “I can hardly imagine pleasanter company for such a tedious trip.”

Mr. Bingley turned his smile to Miss Darcy.

Kitty’s chocolate lost its flavor.

 

*****

Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful.

She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six cats, seven Regency-era fiction projects and notes for eight more writing projects in progress. To round out the list, she cooks for nine in order to accommodate the growing boys and usually makes ten meals at a time so she only cooks twice a month.  You can find Maria online on her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

Friday Fun: The 2014 Reading Challenge

Every year Goodreads challenges its members to pick a reading goal for the year.  Then throughout the year the sidebar on their site lets you know how woefully behind (or spectacularly ahead – though this happens less often for me) you are.

 

 

After much self-reflection and trying to remind myself to be kind to myself, I challenged myself to read 90 books this year.  This is a pretty dramatic increase from my goal last year of 60 books (which I met! Yay me!).  I want to spend more time reading this year as I truly feel it positively affects my writing.  In my perfect world I’d be reading 2 books a week (104 a year)…the world is not perfect.  So I went slightly easier on myself than would be my normal tendency and came up with the 90 number.

 

 

Aw, look how positively it starts out…

 

One of the ways I plan to meet this goal is to stop trying to force myself to read books I’m just not that into.  Earlier this year I gave myself permission to stop reading books that I’m struggling with mid-book, but I still try to read things because I feel like I should instead of because I really want to.  I also wait WAY too long into a book to ditch it.  This is going to stop.

 

I’m also going to try to invest more in books this year.  I tend to feel guilty about spending money on myself – I think this is a mom thing, but I’m trying to get over it!

 

What is your reading goal for the year?  Are you on Goodreads (and if you are I hope we are friends)?  What are your strategies for meeting your reading goals?