SECRETS AND LIES

by Ottilia Scherschel

I grew up in an era without social media when privacy had high value. My grandmother had rules about privacy. She loved to say don’t air your dirty linen. That cliché translated into a reminder not to talk about personal/family matters outside the family. In reality, the unwritten rule translated into something akin to you can’t tell anyone, and if you can’t avoid saying something when asked, embroider the truth. In my writing life, my grandmother’s rules have come in handy.

Characters in a book have secrets—personal and family secrets—and tell lies. Imagine what I could do with Uncle Vinnie’s story. He and Aunt Hilda had a solid marriage, or so the family thought. Then one day, Uncle Vinnie came home from a business trip to find his house empty. grimace-1299164_640Stunned, he meandered around searching the kitchen cupboards for the pots and pans and Aunt Hilda’s closet for her personal belongings. He finally spotted an envelope taped to the back door. Inside was the deposit book for their joint bank account with the money withdrawn. Poor Uncle Vinnie was left with the house payment and his underwear. We later found out Aunt Hilda ran off with an old high school boyfriend and moved to Costa Rica. Did Uncle Vinnie ever embroider that one?

A story like his creates a whirlwind in my brain. I see the seeds of a backstory for the life of a character peppered with Uncle Vinnie’s emotional ups and downs. Next time you read your favorite author, ask yourself whose dirty linen helped create the characters. I know I would have no stories to tell without airing someone’s secrets and lies.

TELLTALE HABITS

by Ottilia Scherschel

My father was a businessman who carried a small notepad in the inside pocket of his suit jacket. He dutifully wrote down the names of people he met and things he wanted to remember. To this day, I carry a notepad in my purse. I know I could enter important information in my smart phone, but the habit I picked up from my Dad has stuck with me.

I recently jotted something in my pad while at a luncheon. A woman at my table said, “You must be a writer.” My taking notes confirmed in her mind I was a writer. Her statement made me think about what gives us away in life, those habits that tell others about who we might be.

I met a woman at a cocktail party recently who wore a silver lanyard with a small pen attached like a piece of jewelry around her neck. While we were getting acquainted, she wrote something on a napkin. I hoped it wasn’t her grocery list. “Are you taking notes?” I asked.

She chuckled. “It’s a bit of dialogue.”

“Something I said?”

“No, but you triggered an idea.”

“For what?”

“An article. You see I’m a columnist.”

I should have guessed she was some kind of writer. Why else would she need a pen around her neck? “Tell me about the article,” I said without revealing I too wrote.

When planning a novel, I spend considerable time choosing habits for my characters with the idea in mind that these should disclose something about them. I’ve even done the reverse by making a list of habits I wanted a character to have and then creating that character from the list.

Look around. Everyone has habits. What can you tell about the people you see? And what do your habits say about you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

How’d I get the idea for this book? By Jill Jaynes

Jill Jaynes

So this is a little embarrassing.  The inspiration for my newest book, “Pirateless in the Caribbean,” was a ponytail. And it came from an ex-boyfriend who didn’t even have one.

He wasn’t an “ex” at the time, in 2013- he was quite current.

So, I was a couple of years out of a divorce and swimming along in the dating pool. I was taking a shot at couple-dom with a nice Jewish man I’d met. We circled each other warily when we weren’t giving into the excellent chemistry, trying to get a feel for all the places we might overlap comfortably while keeping an eye open for the land-mines on the borders of compromise.

Anyway, he was intrigued with my writing, not that he had any desire to write, but he had artistic creativity and he loved to brainstorm plot ideas. He was great fun to do this with, because he came at things from a completely different angle than I did.

In any case, I had shared with him my plan to write a series of stories about people who shared one common friend with a magical gift, and then each met the love of their life as a result. All the stories could be totally different from each other, in place and theme.

I don’t remember actually how he came up with the pirate idea, but as soon as he did, he declared the pirate must have a ponytail. And that was that. I don’t know what it was, maybe a wish-fulfillment fantasy of a man with thinning hair, but  he could not let that ponytail go.  I wasn’t even writing that story yet- I was still writing my first story and was immersed in swords and Historical European Martial Arts.

He hounded me about that ponytail for most of the five months we dated and I kept it in my closet of intriguing ideas, thinking that a modern day story about a pirate might call for a Caribbean vacation setting.  It was a good idea, a better one than the relationship as it turned out.

A few months after we broke up, a country song came on the radio that sparked that little ponytail into the full-fledged plot of my next story. Dierks Bentley’s “Drunk on a Plane” was just the ticket – my heroine was going on a deluxe Caribbean vacation she did not want to take- no way, no how.

I set the ideas on “simmer” while I finished my other work in progress, letting a plot evolve that would put my unwilling character in a first class seat to meet the love of her life- a pirate.

I have no problem at all thanking my ex-Mr happily-for-now for the great idea. As another story-teller once reminded us, “Life is like a box of chocolates.” Dig in and enjoy.

I think it worked out rather well, but you can judge for yourself when “Pirateless in the Caribbean” goes up for sale on June 17th on Amazon and many other places ebooks are sold (you can pre-order on May 1st).

Creating My Worlds

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My sister and I at an Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America Meeting

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Our Writing Something Romantic Sisterhood

Someone once asked me how I create a world for whatever book I’m writing at the time. Since I write historical romance, you’d think the answer would be simple – research. But it’s a bit more complicated than that.

While I do spend a considerable amount of effort studying the history of a particular time and place, I also must create fictional characters who have a backstory which shaped them. Every important character has a family. Fathers and mothers leave their imprint on their children, for good or bad. Brothers and sisters play an important part in each hero or heroine’s childhood. Qualities – positive or negative – instilled by parents or mentors become lifelong traits.

Let me give you an example.

In Promise Me, a story set in the Regency time period, Court Shelburne nearly loses the love of his life through his unreasoning jealousy. His lack of trust begins early on, when his mother is too involved with her current lover to return home to the bedside of her dying son – Court’s older brother. That traumatic event is the catalyst for everything that follows.

Now, I don’t start out by telling you, the reader, that’s why Court feels unworthy of love. Or why he’s so quick to believe that Philippa has betrayed him with his best friend. All we know for certain at the beginning of the story is that Court believes he holds the moral high ground – while at the same time he’s plotting his coldhearted revenge on his faithless wife.

However, things are not always what they seem.

When first creating a story, I ask myself: What secrets are they (hero and heroine) keeping from each other? These secrets often stem from incidents in their childhood.

But not always.

In Lachlan’s Bride, set in the reign of James IV of Scotland, Lady Francine is keeping a secret belonging not to herself, but to her sister, who’s died five years before the tale begins. Yet at the time of the story’s events, the concealment of the past becomes pivotal to the continued safety of Francine and her daughter.

Once again, I don’t tell the reader at the beginning of the romance that Francine is boldfaced lying to Lachlan MacRath (and everyone else).

But in the end, of course, all will be revealed.

Kathleen Harrington

WRITING A BOOK

by Ottilia Scherschel

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

I don’t know when George Orwell wrote that, but I know I agree with him. I often ask myself why I go through the “exhausting struggle” of putting words on the page. Am I “driven by some demon” as Orwell suggests?

I like to think I’m driven by curiosity, a desire to explore the “what if-s” of life. I’m currently working on a short story about smuggling antiquities. In my real world, I wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing, but on the page figuring out what a smuggler might do is fascinating. Let’s face it. The idea is to escape my everyday world into a place where anything and everything is possible.

Isn’t this why you read? So far so good. I’ve told you the fun part of what I do as a writer. Now, let’s get to the “exhausting struggle” part.

Writing is a time consuming task. Ideas don’t always come quickly, and sometimes my brain can be as dry as bones bleached by the desert sun. My first draft is never my last draft since what I wrote yesterday may not make sense today. Progress can be slow and at times even negative when I have to start something over. Yet, I refuse to give up. Are you starting to feel “some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand?”

When I finish a writing project, I have a sense of accomplishment and relief—the first because I’m finished and can celebrate completing a task and the second because I can start a new story or book. I begin the “exhausting struggle once more.” I work and keep working because I’m a writer.

Is there something you enjoy doing that would fit Orwell’s description of writing a book?

 

It’s in the voice

I’ve been reading romance novels since—forever and haven’t read a romance I didn’t love—well maybe one or two. Several years ago my “to read” stack of books was growing and my reading time was shrinking. A time when I was working fifty plus hours a week and free time was at a premium.

I spent the day with author Linda McLaughlin, shopping at Barnes and Noble (adding to the “to read” stack) when we found an audio cassette box set of Nora Roberts’ The Key Trilogy. Linda asked if I’d read the trilogy, and sadly I had not. In fact, I’d only read one or 9781491542071_p0_v1_s192x300two of Nora’s books. She suggested giving the box set a try. I’d only listened, or tried to listen, to one audio book before when a friend let me borrow a mystery-suspense novel. I ejected the first cassette within minutes because the narrator’s voice drove me crazy, and never tried one again. At the time, I spent a minimum of two hours a day sitting on the freeway going to and from work, and since my car had a cassette player I decided to give audio books a second chance. If this one faired better, then I would be able to read more authors—no, listen to more novels by authors I hadn’t had time to read.

I slid the first cassette to The Key of Light into the dash. Brother, what a difference a voice makes. Within minutes Susan Ericken’s wonderful voice swept me into the lives of Malory Price, Dana Steele and Zoe McCourt and the world surrounding Warrior’s Peak. When I finished The Key of Light, I immediately started book two, The Key of Knowledge and finished with the Key of Valor.

One audio book led to another and another and another. Before I knew it, I’d listened to numerous titles by Nora, including J.D. Robb. I added other authors I didn’t have time to read. Then I started listening to favorite books I’d read. My favorite historical romance is 9781469261492_p0_v2_s192x300Saving Grace by Julie Garwood. I’ve read the book several times and when I was finally able to obtain an audio version, I was in seventh heaven. Performed by Rosalyn Landor, the Highlands and the Scottish warrior Gabriel MacBain became so vivid in my mind. I remember listening to Jennifer Cruzie’s Agnes and the Hit Man and laughing out loud while driving down the freeway.

My audio library is still growing. I now have either CD’s or MP3-CD’s in both unabridged and abridged (I prefer unabridged). I have even repurchased certain audio books I originally bought in cassette format. I recently read an article that stated there has been a strong growth in audio books in companies such as Audible. Amazon’s Kindle Edition offers an audible narration with your book’s purchase. OverDrive is a digital download platform for public libraries.

Even though I no longer find myself sitting on the freeway for hours at a time, I still prefer listening to an audio book instead of a music channel. And heaven forbid if I forgot to bring an audio book along.

If you have never tried an audio book, why not give one a try? You too might find yourself falling for them as I have.

Somewhere in Time – Kathleen Harrington

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Someone once asked me, if I could visit any time period and location, when and where would I go? I felt pulled in, oh, so many directions, just envisioning the possibilities.

Even today, I find that a hard question to answer. Every epoch has its allure, and I’ve visited many exotic locales in my books. If you’ve ever seen Woody Allen’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, you can understand my dilemma. The hero, played by Owen Wilson, yearned to be in Paris when it was the literary playground of such greats as Hemmingway and Fitzgerald. But in the film, a young woman from that era longed to live in the Paris of Toulouse Lautrec and the Moulin Rouge.

One of the first choices that come to mind, for me, is London during the Regency. Of course, I’d want to be the daughter of a wealthy duke with handsome suitors surrounding me at a grand ball. And my dance card would be absolutely full. Yowza!

I love the thought of elegant carriages pulled by matching chestnuts, morning rides around Hyde Park, town mansions lit in the evening with brilliant chandeliers, and spacious country estates. No wonder I cherish Jane Austen! Ah, to be Lizzie Bennet, Mr. Darcy’s beloved spitfire. Sigh.

Another place I can envision visiting is the Scottish Highlands during Scotland’s Golden Years under James IV. On the brink of the Enlightenment, the country remained independent from English rule. Clansmen in their tartans, with great claymores on their backs, met in the Scottish Court at Edinburgh to woo their sweethearts with song and poetry. Who can resist the sight of a brawny Scot in a kilt? Hmm. Not me.

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I think, however, the place and time I’d most like to visit is the American West in the 1880’s. Women wore the most fantastic costumes, fitted tightly through the bust and waist, and adorned with buttons and bows and perky bustles perched right on top their you-know-what. They carried frilly parasols over their feathered bonnets and button shoes on their dainty feet.

But the men, oh my! They were anything but dainty! Wearing leather chaps and wide Stetsons, pistols strapped to their sides, the broad-shouldered fellows simply oozed muscular, masculine charm. Add to that, horses with tooled leather saddles, ropes hanging from a saddle horn, and riding with your darling in a surrey with a fringe on top! Doesn’t get better than that!

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Hmm. Guess I’ll let you choose which place and time sounds the best to you.

Kathleen lives in Southern California with her American Bulldog, Auron. Her latest release, BLACK RAVEN’S LADY, Book 3 of the Highland Lairds Trilogy, is now on sale.