Dec 21, 2011

Love Me For Me

A dear friend of mine told me about an encounter she had with a reader. The woman said she loved a good love story but asked if my friend, a writer of love stories, could write a story about a “fat woman” – tearfully she questioned, “Why can’t we be loved for who we are?”
As a woman that my mother always tactfully described as “zoftig”, I understood this poignant plea. I have often felt blessed that my husband has always made me feel like the most beautiful woman in the world even though fashion designers and modeling agents would surely scoff.
Our heads are filled with stereotypes, women and men who are “fit and trim” with appealing curves and strong biceps. Years ago when I first contemplated writing in the romance genre I received a list of guidelines from one of the “more respected” romance publishers of the time. Some of the suggestions included: he should be self sufficient and usually financially set; she should be attractive and usually innocent; he should have more experience than her; he should be strong; she can be a leader in business with an innate desire to be domestic…
I rebelled. When I wrote the original manuscript for my romantic suspense Courage of the Heart in the late 90’s, I created a hero that was damaged and insecure. Adam Sherman was wrongfully sent to prison as a teen and suffered abuses that left him filled with doubt and shame. Along came Davie (Davida) Prescott, an innocent girl who Adam was finally able to open up to and who accepted him for “who he was”. Because of their love, he was able to face and stare down many of his demons.
I sent the manuscript to one of the two leading romance houses – and it was turned down. The editor gave me the courtesy of an actual response. She complimented me on my writing and said that the story was definitely intriguing and well-plotted. However Adam was not the “typical hero” because of his past - so my story, even though well-written, was not considered saleable.
The world is not made up of “beautiful, perfect people” as oft described in society pages. There have been a few stories I’ve read where heroines and heroes have “imperfections”, but especially a decade ago, those were truly rare. As my friend  questioned, “What about the greater population who make up our world; people in wheelchairs, ones who need walkers or braces on legs or arms?”
The world is not made up of stereotypes.

Excerpt from Courage of the Heart:
Adam had never felt so frustrated about a relationship before, at least not since he got out of that little Pennsylvania town he grew up in. His teen-age years were filled with memories he wished he didn't have; so long as he could remember that time, though, he'd never be any good for someone as pure as Davie. He had been with a lot of women and he never made any secret of his appetite or his lack of emotional commitment. Adam had told himself that his unusual interest in Davie as a person and not just a sex partner was only a sign of his "growing up", at twenty-five it was bound to happen…eventually. He shook his head, because it was Davie and not his age that was playing havoc with his libido.
Adam stared at the clock on the wall and decided that he had to get close to Davie somehow. He had no idea how to get beyond his dilemma, but he knew he had to try to mend fences with her. Red roses were Davie's favorite, he had learned that during one of their relaxing conversations. He had enjoyed listening to her talk about just about any subject, he was always interested in everything that made her smile, or pause. A quick phone call to the florist gave him a touch of hope.
Forty-five minutes later he felt a little cocky as he walked down the hall to Customer Service.
The door was ajar and Adam peeked in. Only one of the desks was occupied.
"Oh, hi Mr. Sherman. Are you looking for Davie?" Agnes, one of the other girls in Customer Service, was holding down the fort by herself. Since he had not made any secret of his interest in Davie, it was a natural assumption why he was there. "She's already gone for the day."
Checking his watch, he frowned. "Isn't it a little bit early?"
"To be honest, I don’t think she was feeling too well." Agnes shrugged. "And then she got some flowers delivered and it must've really started her allergies or something…'cause her eyes got all red and she had to get out of here."
"Flowers were delivered?" Good, then she got his note.
"Yeah. They were really pretty. She took them with her."
"She did?" Maybe there was a reason to feel optimistic after all.
Adam thanked Agnes and left the office. It was only when he passed the garbage chute that he lost his newfound hope. On the floor was a rose; a piece of green fern was sticking out from the side of the bin where it had gotten stuck when the bouquet was thrown out.
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Chelle has come a long way since first joining the Vanilla Heart Publishing queue of authors nearly two years ago with her first novel, Bartlett’s Rule. Now with nine novels on the market, she has solidified her standing as a Romantic Suspense author (7 romantic suspense & 2 mysteries.) She also has short stories in the VHP anthology With Arms Wide Open, Mandimam’s Press anthology Forever Friends, the VHP anthology Nature’s Gifts, VHP anthology Passionate Hearts and Mandimam Press anthology Forever Travels.

Bartlett’s Rule was named one of Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s Top Ten Reads for 2009; Final Sin was a 2009 Pushcart Nominee; and Hostage Heart, Final Sin and A Chaunce of Riches were nominated in the 2009 Preditors’ and Readers’ poll and had top-ten finishes. Chelle Cordero was recently featured as one of the authors in “50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading” published by The Author’s Show in 2010.

Chelle also authors a weekly Amazon Kindle Blog featuring weekly writing lessons. Vanilla Heart publishing recently published two books based on that blog, Living, Breathing, Writing: A Lesson A Day, Volumes 1 and 2. And all of Chelle’s novels are available in both print and ebook editions for every reading device, through online retailers and in select bookstores around the world.
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Dec 6, 2011

Cover Me

Any writer will tell you—covers are always an occasion for stress. In my case, I never know exactly what to expect, but I usually have an idea of what I don’t want. Fortunately, the cover artists for my Konigsburg books, Natalie Winters and Valerie Tibbs, always come up with something that works.

Julie Ortolon did a nice rundown on the history of romance covers from clenches to objects to cartoons. She includes the “headless horsemen,” guys whose heads are missing but whose abs are prominent featured, but she didn’t include one more category that I know of—torso girls. These are the covers featuring nude or partially nude women clutching their breasts or crossing their arms across their bosoms to hide the nipples. I had a torso girl on the very first version of Venus In Blue Jeans and wasn’t happy with it. Neither was my editor. You can see the version we finally ended up with here. I love it, but it took a while to get there.

After we had this lovely picture of a smiling heroine, that seemed to set the pattern for the next three books about the Toleffson brothers. Two of them (Wedding Bell Blues and Long Time Gone) featured the heroines. One (Be My Baby) featured the hero. Of the three books with heroines, two have “headless horsemen” in the background, while one (Wedding Bell Blues) has a guy in a nice blue blazer since he’s heading for a wedding and can hardly show up semi-clothed (although that particular wedding might have been okay with it).

When the Toleffson stories were finished, we wanted the next covers to have a different feel to go along with the new storylines. So Brand New Me featured a couple looking at each other rather than a single character looking directly at the reader. There’s also a different color scheme and (love this part) a field of sunflowers to give the cover a sort of golden tone.


Which brings us to Don’t Forget Me, the latest Konigsburg book.
This is actually the first time I’ve gotten a cover where I looked at the people and said, “Yes! That’s Kit and Nando.” I frequently don’t have a firm picture of my hero or heroine in my mind as I write. I do the usual thing where you think of a movie star who’s sort of the same type and then associate your character with him/her (Kris Kristofferson for Cal, Steve McQueen for Tom Ames). But that was just a kind of mental crutch rather than a real picture of what my characters looked like. With the earlier covers, I came to believe that the people on the cover really looked like the people I wrote about (Docia in particular seemed true to life), but I didn’t start out feeling that way. This time, on the other hand the people on the cover were the people I’d envisioned—which is really sort of scary when you think about it.

So thanks, Valerie. It’s a beautiful cover. And it so looks like them!

Here’s the blurb:

Once they said goodbye forever. Now they want to walk it back.
Konigsburg, Texas, Book 6

Eighteen months ago, Kit Maldonado was so over Nando Avrogado, she left Konigsburg without a backward glance. With the family restaurant in San Antonio sold out from under her, though, she’s back to manage The Rose, an exclusive resort eatery outside town.Dealing with a stingy boss, an amorous head chef, an understaffed dining room and planning her aunt’s wedding should have kept her hands full. But she realizes she might not be as over Nando as she thought.As the town’s new assistant chief of police, Nando’s got enough trouble without sexy Kit fanning embers he thought had long ago turned to ashes. Every time he turns around, she’s there—and it doesn’t help that everyone in town wants to see them back together.One incendiary kiss, and there’s no denying the force of their attraction. But there’s a mysterious and oddly familiar burglar who’s been lurking around Konigsburg, someone who isn’t above a little mayhem—maybe even violence—to cover his tracks. 


Meg Benjamin is the author of the Konigsburg series for Samhain Publishing. Book #3, Be My Baby, won a 2011 EPIC Award for Contemporary Romance. Book #4, Long Time Gone, received the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award for Indie Press Romance. Book #5, Brand New Me, was a Long and Short Reviews Best Book. Meg lives in Colorado with her DH and two rather large Maine coon kitties (well, partly Maine Coon anyway). Her Web site is http://www.MegBenjamin.com.  You can follow her on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/meg.benjamin1), and Twitter (http://twitter.com/megbenj1). Meg loves to hear from readers—contact her at meg@megbenjamin.com.

Dec 1, 2011

13 Tips for Characterization and Conflict

In writing, as in life, it's often the similarities of things that bring about the most conflict. Familiarity breeds contempt. Here are some ideas to use those similarities as well as differences to enhance characterization and conflict.

1. Is there a particular type of feud that underlies part of your character's background? For example, is her brother in the Army, and her hero's brother is in the Navy, and she meets her hero at halftime during the Army-Navy game? Imagine they are both wearing sweatshirts with Army or Navy on them, and end up stepping forward at the same time in the concession stand. Turns out they have the same order (beer and hot dogs), and even both want only mustard on their dogs. How might the similarities as well as the differences fuel the conflicts, yet bring them closer together?
2. Write a backstory for each major character, so he has a reason for being the way he/she is. Did your hero become an outlaw because he broke the law while saving someone's life, but he hides this? Why? Does he have a dark secret about his past? Who else knows about it? Could this come out at a worse time than now? What will he do to prevent it?
3. Create a barrier between your main characters that keeps them from communicating at a critical moment. Suppose one is telepathic, and the other can't shield thoughts. If something suddenly hampered that flow of thought, what would happen to their usual smooth dynamic? Would the one with telepathy think the other was hiding something? Would this cause a misunderstanding that might fuel conflict?
4. Give your hero/ine an idiosyncrasy. For example, does your heroine tap her chin when she's deep in thought? Perhaps this is how the hero realizes she's hiding something later in the story, and clues him in to make a critical decision. Make the odd habit enough of a part of the character for readers to recognize it too.
5. Create a list of things that your main character wants. Write down three conflicts for each one, and then figure out an unexpected solution. For example: WANT #1: to be a mom more than anything in the world. CONFLICT #1: She can't conceive because _____. CONFLICT #2: Because _____ happened in her past she doesn't trust men. CONFLICT #3: Because she works as a ________ she travels all over the world, so how can she even think about adopting? She's pretty much given up her dream, but it's still there, taunting her. UNEXPECTED SOLUTION: Her work puts her in a war torn area where an orphaned street kid's savvy enables him to save her life. How might saving this child lead to the loss of other things in her life? Career opportunities? Travel? Freedom of movement? How can she reconcile her desires against the child's very real needs, and the fact that she owes him her life? Now, throw in a hero who risks his life to help them both. How might this change her conflicts?
6. What event from your hero and/or heroine's lives changed them the most? How did it come about? What would they do if they could change it? How can you adapt that concept to the current story?
7. Don't be too kind. Let your favorite character suffer. Conflict is the lifeblood of a story. Readers want to see a happy ending that is well earned, so don't go easy on your character. Help them overcome it.
8. Don't be afraid to make your villain truly evil. No one fears a wimp. It's okay to be bad (at least in this case).
9. Consider what your main characters don't want. Is there something they would never do even under penalty of death? What is it, and why?
10. A character was forced into a compromising situation in which a lie seemed the best way out. Over the years, that lie became second nature, and almost seems like the truth. Now, the lie has been exposed. What will happen if the truth comes out? How does your character react? Will he/she try to cover it up? To what extent is he/she willing to go? What emotions go through the character's heart?
11. Create doubt for your character. Yes, we know that the good guy will win, and the bad guy will be defeated, at least for now. But at what point does your hero/ine look at a situation and think "How can I keep doing this? How can I go on?" No action movie is complete without a final showdown in which the hero/ine is so beat up and so close to defeat that you start to hold your breath and wonder "will he make it?"
Surrender Love
2010 EPIC Award Winner
Erotic SciFi Romance
12. Foreshadow conflict for your characters. In the book Surrender Love, the two heroes are generations apart. When a cousin points out the large age difference, the younger hero says, "The age of someone isn't something I think about." Later, it's discovered the younger hero isn't as old as he lets others think he is, and the older one isn't just older -- he's immortal. Each has a reason to hide his age, and part of that reason is a character flaw as well as a strength.
13. Make a list of ways your characters handle conflict, and stick to them -- until there's a reason to change. Does your heroine head for the bar, or chocolate? Does your hero stalk off in a huff, or go practice yoga? Does they both go to the shooting range and blow stuff up? At what point does your character talk to a friend and hash out the details? Is he too much of a loner to talk about emotional things? How might he handle conflict if there is no one to talk to but he is a talker? Does he pace? Does she keep a journal? What if that journal is found by the villain, who uses it against the hero? At what point does your character's usual handling of conflict backfire or fail to work? That can be the crux of a conflict all on its own.

Conflict and characterization go hand-in-hand. How your characters react to conflict is what makes them who they are. Write them with depth by knowing how they deal with life. Ask them questions, be willing to listen, and then use those reactions to beef up the story.

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