Source: Natural Selection
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Source: Practicing for Haiku 366
You may have noticed two tabs missing from the Home page of the blog, replaced by two new ones.
My beloved Flash! Friday micro fiction weekly contest is no more. The moderator decided it was time to focus on her own writing. I’ll miss my weekly dragon queen’s offerings, but at least she stopped for a reason I can understand.
I hadn’t participated in Friday Fictioneers in quite some time. It’s still a lively and vibrant site and definitely a place to go if you want to practice writing short, short, short fiction, as in, 100-word fiction. I feel that between Flash! Friday and Friday Fictioneers, I learned a great deal about flash fiction, and I want to move onto something new.
To show I haven’t given up flash fiction, take a look at the new tab “RSC Mini Stories.” Journalist and author Jennie Coughlin has started posting a daily photo prompt using Rory’s Story Cubes on her Instagram account. She posts her own mini-story there, but I’m using the photo prompt to write some flash fiction on my blog. There have been seven prompts so far, so seven mini-stories for you to read.
The other new tab on my blog is “Haiku.” I’ve loved the Haiku form since I learned it in high school and college. I’ve recently learned, however, that the five-seven-five syllable set-up is bogus because of the differences between written English and Japanese. A modern, American haiku is still three lines (maybe) but is generally between ten and seventeen syllables. So, I’m going to give a haiku a day a try. Because 2016 is a leap year, that’ll be 366 haiku–if I’m up to it.
I’m going to use Rory’s Story Cubes for this as well. Each day, I’ll post a picture of three cubes, and I’ll write a haiku based on my interpretation of them. And that the fun thing about Rory’s Story Cubes: They can mean whatever you want them to mean, and your imagination can run away with itself.
I encourage you to join me in both endeavors and post your mini-stories and/or haiku in the comments on each of my posts. And let’s have fun.
Romance author Margaret Locke got me to read not only one romance but now two, both of them hers. I reviewed Locke’s debut novel, A Man of Character, in this post from several months ago. Now, Locke has released the next in her series, A Matter of Time, a Regency-era, time-travel romance.
Talk about genre mash-ups, but this works. No sophomore slump for this romance author whose work turns formula on its head.
A Matter of Time tells Eliza James’s story. Eliza is the character from A Man of Character who wanted her best friend, Cat, to use her magic, medieval book to send her back to the period of her literary idol, Jane Austen, and into the arms of a duke. We’ve seen in A Man of Character that Cat’s magic works, and Eliza finds herself in Regency England at the estate of Deveric Mattersley, a handsome duke with a tragic past and an interesting family. Eliza finds out that, of course, wishes and reality can be two very different things. How she overcomes being a fish out of water, or, rather, a woman out of time, and how her duke overcomes his fear of commitment makes for an engaging read.
So, let’s find out a little about Margaret Locke.
Romance Reader at Ten
A lover of romance novels since the age of ten (shh, don’t tell mom!), Locke declared as a teen that she’d grow up to write romances. Once an adult, however, she figured she ought to do grown-up things, like, oh, earning that master’s degree in medieval history, not penning steamy love stories. Turning forty cured her of that silly notion. Locke is now happily ensconced back in the clutches of her first love, this time as a definite up and coming author as well as a reader.
Margaret lives in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley in Virginia with her fantastic husband, two fabulous kids, and two fat cats. You can usually find her in front of some sort of screen (electronic or window); she’s come to terms with the fact that she’s not an outdoors person.
Me: A Regency-era, time-travel romance—wha? Seriously, how does that work?
Locke: Uh, that depends on whom you ask. For me, it was simple: Jane Austen-loving, romance novel junkie Eliza James’s best friend Cat has a magical manuscript that can bring love interests to life. Eliza thinks this is the greatest thing ever and asks for her own personal romance hero in Regency England, since it’s the era she’s loved for so long. Cat figures, what the heck, if she’s got the power to do one kind of magic, maybe throwing time-travel into Eliza’s story would work, too. And, lo and behold, it does!
But really, the long and the short of it is, a modern-day Jane Austen fan finds herself in Regency England, through * jazzy hands * MAGIC! * jazzy hands*. That’s the power of fiction, folks.
Me: You’ve alluded to the fact that this is Eliza’s story, but what do you think was Eliza’s biggest challenge of one second being in modern times and the next in an era she’s studied but only fantasized about until now?
Locke: Truly comprehending the difference between fantasy and reality. It’s one thing to read about chamber pots and class systems and roast turtle and serious restrictions on women. We think we can comprehend them, but I have the sneaking suspicion that unless we’re there, in the thick of everything, we can’t.
The same is true for Eliza. She wants to imagine it all Jane Austen and FitzWilliam Darcy, but real life in Regency England, like real life now, is so much more complicated and layered than any novel or movie can ever portray (and of course I didn’t include numerous things I could have, given I was writing a happy romance, not a gritty tell-all.)
Plus, Eliza suddenly realizes just how much a fish out of water she is, for no matter how much she’s studied the culture, as anyone who lives in a foreign country experiences, she soon realizes there’s so much she never knew about, or hadn’t fully considered, or wanted to pretend she didn’t have to deal with.
I remember feeling that way when I lived in Germany: similar Western cultures, and, yet, there were things I experienced there I never learned in all my studies of the language and the country, and never could have “gotten” without actually being there, such as nuances of humor. I imagine the same is true for Eliza venturing to a different time period, probably even more so.
Me: What was your greatest challenge, as a writer, in putting a modern woman 200 years in the past?
Locke: Wanting to make her believable, both to her Regency peers, and to a modern reading audience. It’s actually a little easier to stick a modern woman back into Regency times in some ways. She can behave as independently as she wants, and it rings true. Whereas, as much as we love the kick-ass heroines dotting many a Regency romance novel, and while there were strong, independent, feisty women in that period, the reality is the restrictions placed on women were more stringent than they are today and a far cry from what many 21st century women would accept.
The other biggest challenge was getting the historical details right, and I’m sure in spite of my research, of reading books and scouring blog posts and querying members of RWA’s Beau Monde, that I still got some things wrong. It’s not my culture, my language, my time.
On the other hand, I could write a depiction of modern society someone else would view as completely skewed or wrong because everyone experiences the world through his or her own lens, in different ways based on upbringing, experiences, etc. Therefore, I’d like to think as long as I get most of the details right, the rest falls under artistic license. 😉
Me: In contrast to your first book, A Matter of Time has a large and complex cast of main and supporting characters. How did you keep them in line, i.e., getting them to “wait” for their stories to be told?
Locke: I’m not sure I did! In truth, I’d sketched out the Mattersley family before I’d even finished writing my first (at that point unrelated) book, A Man of Character (Eliza’s character arc and subsequent travels were a later addition!). I’d always known I wanted to write Regency romance and that I wanted to write a series about siblings in the vein of Sabrina Jeffries, Julia Quinn, and Eloisa James. So I made up a cast of characters and even tidbits about what, and when, their stories might be. I tried to drop small hints in the pages of A Matter of Time, alluding to future stories. We’ll see if I did so effectively.
At one point in the revision process, I did end up drafting a spreadsheet listing each character and important information about them, because I worried I was repeating or omitting things. Hopefully, I struck the right balance.
And, well, Deveric’s two sidekick friends, James Bradley and Morgan Collinswood, were late additions, stuck in during a moment of NaNoWriMo lunacy, and then developed further because I fell in love with them!
Me: I know this book introduces characters, who will appear in later works dedicated to their stories. That’s fun, but it has to be scary, too?
Locke: Absolutely. I’m wondering if I’ll be able to keep all the information from the previous stories straight, if I’ll get it right in future stories, if I’ll be able to keep dropping hints about the various other tales in the stories to come. I may have bitten off more than I can chew, but all I can do is move forward. I’ve read the masters, I know how successfully they’ve done this, so when in doubt, I’ll go back to the sources, the Triumverate of authors mentioned above, and study up again.
The key, I think, will be making more of those character spreadsheets, to try to keep everyone and everything straight. On the other hand, I believe it’s Julia Quinn who laughs about how one heroine’s eye color changes three times over three different books. So, well, there’s potential room for error, right?
Me: What was your greatest fear, again, as a writer, for the publication of your second novel?
Locke: That people won’t like it. I’ve been delighted and surprised by the positive response to A Man of Character. I can’t believe how much some readers have raved about that story. So the question is, can I do it again? Will those readers follow me along to a new story set in a different era, a romance that’s more traditional in structure/plot? Or will I hit sophomore slump, lose readers, and have this be the end of my career?
The fear is still there, every day.
Me: What about the second novel was easier? Harder?
Locke: I think I felt more confident in my ability to actually complete the sucker, and it felt easier to be following a more familiar pattern. I won’t say formula, because that has negative connotations, but like any genre novel, romance has familiar steps in the dance, points at which certain types of things happen, etc. With my first book, since it wasn’t a typical romance in terms of having the hero identified from page one, I flailed about a bit more while figuring out how to structure the thing. A Matter of Time was easier, in that regard.
Harder, again, was the fact that I was suddenly writing a historical novel, and even though that’d always been my plan and is what I want to do, it was daunting to realize just how challenging getting the history “right” (or at least “right enough”) is. It’s one thing to read historical fiction; it’s quite another to write it, and as a trained historian, all I can think is, “I’m missing details, I’m leaving stuff out, I’m probably getting this wrong!”
Luckily for me, I wrote the first draft of this novel well before A Man of Character was published, so though I’m frightened now of its reception, I wasn’t frightened when I wrote it. Which is a good thing, since I’m in the middle of writing book three, A Scandalous Matter, and am painfully aware that the thing is a big old mess, but one that I’m going to have to figure out how to fix and get into shape enough so that people will want to read it, because people are already telling me they want to read it!
Me: What about the second novel has surprised you, compared to the first?
Locke: The second novel, while it has its moments of levity, too, has a few plot points that are more serious in tone. Both Eliza and Deveric have experienced great losses, and those losses come into play, influencing thoughts, emotions, and actions at various points in the story. So I wrote some scenes that were, for me, heart-wrenching, more so than anything I wrote in A Man of Character. I don’t mind that; I want my novels to evoke feelings, though I hope to keep the fun, witty verbal exchanges that delight me so much!
Me: Is the whole novel-writing/editing/revising/publishing process somehow easier the second time around? Do you anticipate each successive novel will be easier or harder?
Locke: I’m guessing certain parts will get easier and certain harder. I hope, with each successive novel, to do a better job from the start in constructing a solid story, so that revisions are less extensive. If I’m studying my craft and learning from my mistakes, this would seem to be a natural progression. Please, let it be so! I don’t like editing. Not that I’m saying I’ll ever write a perfect first draft, no one does, but I’d like to feel I’ve gotten the elements (character development, plot, emotional arcs, etc.) more in balance from the beginning.
On the other hand, I fear the pressure will mount. I now get why published authors say it never gets any easier. I used to think, “What do you mean? You’ve got thirty books out! Surely by now you realize how good you are!” But I think what they mean is, every new book is a chance for failure, for rejection, and that’s scary. We all know famous movie stars who’ve made flop movies, which have changed our perceptions of them. Nobody wants to be a flop writer.
Me: There’s a sweet little Easter Egg toward the end of A Matter of Time about Jane Austen. Was that fun to include or a little tear-jerking?
Locke: Both! I really, really loved how that scene came together, though I fear true Austenites might challenge my portrayal of certain people/things. It makes me giddy every time I read it. And yet, well, in 1812, Jane Austen only had five years left to live, and Eliza would have known that. That part made me sad but not sad enough to cut the scene. It is one of my absolute favorites.
Getting in Touch
Locke likes connecting to her readers, so if you’re not already following her on various social media or subscribing to her newsletter, and you should, here is how you can connect:
Both of Locke’s novels are available as paperbacks and ebooks from Amazon:
When you decide to write a novella, you sit down and write until you have between 7,500 and 40,000 words, depending on genre. However, since thriller/suspense isn’t listed among the genres where the length of novellas is specifically spelled out, I’ve opted to go with the length suggested for literary and romance fiction, 20,000 to 40,000 words.
For my most recent novella, The Yellow Scarf, which debuts today, the history isn’t quite that simple. I never intended for it to be a novella at all.
The second part of the novella started out as a chapter in book one of a draft series called A Perfect Hatred, which is about domestic terrorism in the U.S. I intended that chapter to illustrate how my two covert operatives not only had to switch between missions but also had to deal with a mission interfering with the upcoming holidays.
In a subsequent edit/rewrite of the novel, that chapter got cut, and for some reason I didn’t ditch it completely. A couple of years later, I was searching for some short story material, and I opened the file, changed the ending, and ended up with a short story, originally titled “Justice for Ludmilla.” The story was around 5,000 words, and I was pretty pleased with it.
The short story was a snapshot of a couple of hours in Sarajevo in late fall 1993, at the height of the sniper activity in that city. The Serb Army was entrenched on the ridges surrounding the city, which had hosted the 1984 winter Olympics. Not only did they bombard the city with artillery, but snipers wreaked havoc. A battle of snipers ensued, with Bosnian Muslim civilian snipers and Serb Army snipers hunting each other amid the destruction. Even though both sides sniped at civilians, a preponderance of the sniper killings were Serb Army on civilians. Sarajevo’s main avenue became known as Sniper Alley. My story told of an investigation into a civilian’s death and the investigator’s desire to find the identity of the sniper.
I was so pleased with the story that I work-shopped it at my 2015 Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop genre fiction writing class. The consensus was that everyone liked the story, but they wanted to know more: why was the investigator there, why were there vague hints about something happening the year before, etc. In our one-on-one, the workshop instructor, Laura Benedict, said, “I think this is too powerful for a short story. Why don’t you turn it into a novella?”
In general, workshop instructors are much like agents or editors. They tell you trim, cut, be more concise. Rarely do they ever suggest that you add words or, heaven forbid, expand a short story into a novella. I was stunned by that, but I went home determined to see if I could do it. After all, the back-story to that short story was in my head, i.e., I knew who and what and why but hadn’t wanted to clutter the short story with it. A novella offered definite possibilities.
I put butt in chair and wrote. About 18,000 words later I had a draft novella. I did my usual thing and set it aside for a couple of weeks. When I did a revision I ended up adding a couple thousand words to get it to the 20,000 mark. I shipped it off to a couple of beta readers, who coincidentally had been in the workshop with me, and they gave me great feedback, which I incorporated.
I continued to polish and refine it until I thought I had a good draft, ready for publication. Still, I hired a professional editor to make a final review, and she, too, made some excellent suggestions. More polishing and refining, and today we have the debut of The Yellow Scarf!
If you’re not already intrigued, and I’m sure you are, here’s an excerpt from the back cover copy to intrigue you even more:
A year after being medevacked from the disintegrating Yugoslavia, U.N. spy Mai Fisher is back for a new mission: investigating sniper activity in Sarajevo. On a cold autumn morning she finds herself at the spot in Sniper Alley where, the day before, someone shot a young mother on her way to buy milk for her children. Pushing the limits of safety Mai searches for the sniper’s nest, hoping for a clue to the shooter’s identity. She feels the pull of justice, not just for this mother but also for what Mai lost the year before. Mai’s partner–and husband–Alexei Bukharin ponders whether the Balkans have given his wife a death wish. When Mai’s focus on her mission costs a life, her desire for justice is strengthened, but Alexei understands here in the Balkans sometimes vengeance is the only option.
The Yellow Scarf is available from Amazon as an ebook for your Kindle or Kindle app ($4.99 or free in Kindle Unlimited) or as a paperback ($6.99). If you buy the paperback, you can get the Kindle version for the Matchbook price of $1.99. What a deal! And just in time for your holiday shopping.