Saturday, April 28, 2012

Every Writer Needs a Castle--and Beckett

Maggie here. It wasn’t until recently that I became hooked on ABC’s Castle. If you don’t know the premise, a crime novel writer tags along with a police officer on cases. How neat would it be if we all could follow the inspiration for our novels around and experience first hand what they experience? Too bad we would need a time machine and a portal into another dimension.

As I was watching the latest episode of Castle (Headhunters), I noticed something that seemed to stand out more than usual. It was how Castle and Beckett work together to solve the crimes.

(warning, there is some talk of... dead bodies and stuff).

She has the questions.

He has the answers. But he can’t come up with the answers unless she asks the right questions.

Julie: I watch Castle too, and Maggie and I both independently realized this is literally how we work. Well, except when Maggie interrogates me, instead of giving snappy answers like Castle, I just blink at the screen. Or whistle innocently. Or point at something shiny. Or, yes, get annoyed, even though I know Maggie is just trying to solve the plot problem with me.

We often get to the point where we frustrate each other and ourselves during our “theory building” sessions. I don’t know how many times I thought I had all the answers and a plot neatly constructed only to later discover a question I didn’t know needed asking. And when that question arises, it will often throw a curveball into my nicely-laid plans.

But we need to find the right questions to ask to ensure that our ideas make sense.

Julie: For what it’s worth, I understand TV writers actually write collaboratively. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the Castle/Beckett exchange wasn’t quite a bit like how they hash out the plots for this show.

I wouldn’t be surprised either. 

I think it’s taken me until book 2 to really realize how important it is to ask a lot of questions. And even when those questions seem obnoxious or tear a hole in a plotline, when you come up with the right answer, your story will be much stronger.

I believe that my understanding of things becomes a lot clearer after we’ve played our Q&A routine.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Julie's Review of A Most Unusual Match by Sara Mitchell

Ridiculously simplified summary: Theodora, an independent young woman, dons a disguise, trying to take revenge on the counterfeiter that ruined her grandfather's life. She despises the Secret Service, as their operatives arrested her innocent grandfather in the first place. Meanwhile, Devlin, a Secret Service agent, tries to take down the same counterfeiter.  He sees right through Thea's disguise...

Content: I never would have guessed from the cover that this is actually a Christian Historical Romance SUSPENSE title. (That's despite the fine print that says "She sought revenge--and found love.") I guess I should learn to trust the words rather than the picture.

The book had more violence than I'd expected, and a lot more excitement. That's not a bad thing (well, the violence was a bit disturbing--not graphic but I found it a touch upsetting).  The first half of the book or so, I couldn't believe this was a Love Inspired Historical, as I'd thought they were all tales of courtship (with maybe a dramatic conflict thrown in at the end). This was something totally different, and I enjoyed it.

The Christian content was that I think about it, the ending (which I felt came out of the blue) may be part of the Christian content. But even so, despite the themes of forgiveness and such, I think Mitchell maybe could have tailored this for the secular market instead, had she chosen to.


Compelling: 8 out of 10.
Almost from the very start, this story caught my attention. Our heroine has a goal and it turns out to be fraught with actual danger. Things really escalate and I'm compelled to read on! The romance is very good, too; there's a lovely scene when our hero and heroine are alone, out in the rain.

Then things get too dangerous and Devlin and Thea have to retreat. That's the point where I start to feel like this becomes more of a standard romance with the typical misunderstandings and such, until the action picks up again.

It keeps the 8 rating because I was so captivated by the first 2/3 or so. The rest certainly wasn't bad by any means, but after so much excitement, I found the pages were no longer flying by.

Characters: 9 out of 10. I really, really liked Devlin and Thea both. Devlin's concern for Thea was touching and he was well-rounded, having twin interests in Secret Service work and horses. He was also really smart and good at reading people (something I'm terrible at). Very interesting to read.

Thea's independence was really fun and this is one of the rare romances where I think I liked the heroine more than the hero. She has interesting nuances, such as getting vertigo when she puts herself in dangerous/stupid situations. She plots and schemes and even lies.

What I liked most is that Thea is not necessarily pretty. And not in the usual "she thinks she's not pretty but everyone else knows she's gorgeous." Also not the "she's not exactly pretty, but with the right makeover and training, she's gorgeous." I have no doubt that she's not unattractive, but even Devlin doesn't obsess over how beautiful she is. Something draws them together, and he realizes she's perfect for him. If I recall correctly, he loves her smile, and I'm sure he finds her attractive...but she's not a model by any means.

Writing/editing: 9 out of 10.  I think I may have seen one error, but I didn't remember it, whatever it was. Mitchell's style is something different--this is one where I wished I would have had it on Kindle, because she used some words outside of my vocabulary. The sentences are not just utilitarian; a large proportion of them struck me as interesting.

Plausibility/believability: 4 out of 5. This is so tough. By the end, I feel like the villain was on the far side of the line between "sane" and "insane" and I'm not quite sure why that happened.

In the other Love Inspired Historicals I've read (only a few, granted) there is often some random danger at the end that seems fairly implausible but is so much fun I don't care. In this one, the danger at the end was too much for me, after all the plausible danger that happened throughout the novel. I also wish our hero and heroine would have had to fight more for their happy ending. Maybe it was God's hand at work? It didn't feel that way to me, but maybe that was the intention.

On the other hand, this is the first historical romance I've read in a while where I felt like the author and I were living in a different world. For instance, it's set in 1897, and Thea has a chaperone. A chaperone who would rather read in her room than go out with Thea, so Thea manages to slip off on her own in the rather liberal Saratoga Springs. But the fact that a chaperone was acknowledged made it feel to me like it was really a different time. That's just one example of many. Devlin's knowledge of horses felt real to me, too. I felt taken away as I hadn't been taken away in quite a while.

Positive: 3 out of 5. Happy ending, of course, but I was surprised by the violence. It worked out all right for most people (except a couple of them), but I didn't come out with that deliriously happy feeling that I get from some romances (and some Disney films!).

Gut reaction: 4 out of 5. I really adored the first half or more of the book, but would have preferred if the tension could have stayed high throughout (instead of the characters retreating to safety). That may be a requirement of the genre, or just a way to show that Thea and Devlin can be content with each other even when their lives aren't in immediate danger. The ending is a big part of one's gut reaction and I would have written the last 20 pages or so differently. Still a fun ride, though.

Bonus points: 5 out of 5.

Recommended for: Fans of suspenseful Christian romance.

Probably not good for: People who can't read anything with any violence; people who hate (clean) romances.

Total Rating: 4.2 out of 5 stars

(Disclaimer: I received this book for free from a giveaway.)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Writing Humor with a Partner

Maggie: Humor is a tricky thing. What someone finds funny another will find absurd.

Julie: Pizza, pizza, oh my. Pizza train, pizza train. Everybody pizza train. WHOO WHOO


Homely unicorn is also not amused.

Julie: Actually, that’s kind of how collaborative writing goes sometimes. One of us will say something we think is BRILLIANT (such as typing out my best recollection of Jimmy Fallon’s Pizza Party dance). The other says, “Um, no.” That second set of eyes is usually right, by the way...whether you’re talking humor or a serious plotline.

Maggie: I feel that my sense of humor is radically different from Julie’s. But we don’t let it work against us but rather for us. We tweak the moments until both of us find humor in the situation. So hopefully if both of us find it funny, the majority of readers will chuckle at it too.

Julie: Our book is above all a romance, but we like to put in moments to make the readers smile. Isn’t that the point of writing?

Maggie: I just share my writing, my imagination with others and hopefully they’ll be entertained too.

I’d also say that when looking for someone to write with or someone to edit/beta read your work, that it’s a good idea to find someone who thinks differently from you. We had a wonderful beta reader who wasn’t even in our target audience. She didn’t like romances but she had no trouble reading The Healer and the Pirate. When it appealed to a non-romance reader we knew that we had something special.

Julie: Check back next week for one more note on collaborative writing. What are we talking about? It’s a bit of a mystery.

(And yes, Julie made the homely unicorn. :) )

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Maggie's Funnies

About two weeks ago, Julie shared some things around the web that make her laugh. This week, it's my turn.

1. Simon's Cat

I love Simon’s Cat. The above one is the very first comic but to me, they are all hilarious. I honestly can’t pick a favorite. The stories are so great because they are true to life. Thank goodness I don’t own a baseball bat or I’d wake up with a black eye every morning. It’s bad enough my hands and arms have scratches on them because Xena “digs” me out of the covers every morning. And a lot of the mischief Simon’s cat gets into reminds me of Shadow. I have seven cats by the way. Cat humor makes me laugh!

Julie: The cat is adorable (meows and all) and anyone who’s had a cat (or probably a dog) can relate…it slowly segues into absurdism as the cat somehow manages to tweak Simon's ear….and then the baseball bat….ROTFL. The cat managing to point to its own mouth, miming that it needs fed, is icing on the cake. Pretty brilliant.

2. Surprise Kitty

Are we seeing a pattern here? Can it be that I only laugh at animals?
Julie: It’s an Internet classic for a reason. Perhaps one of the cutest cat videos ever! Though it makes me smile more than laugh.

3. Twilight

And just to stick with the kitty theme I chose this one:

I have nothing against people liking Twilight. I just don’t feel it is worthy of all the media praise it gets. So anything that pokes fun of Twilight is guaranteed to make me laugh.
Julie:  Smile-worthy, to be sure...though I would’ve liked it about as much without the captions. Cute widdle kitty with wings.

So how does this pertain to collaborative writing? You’ll have to come back next week to see!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

How do they celebrate Easter in Kinyn?

Things that amuse Maggie will have to wait a week. This weekend we celebrate the Remembrance.

As we discussed in December, the Kinyn equivalent of Christmas is simply called “The Lights” and is based on a natural phenomenon. 

Easter or, as they call it in Kinyn, the Remembrance is on the first full moon after the orange flowers bloom, so usually a few weeks into spring.

The families that are able to travel, stay at a Reclaimed temple for a day or two. Some temples receive so many visitors that many have to camp in the courtyards. After a modest shared meal, believers spend the time fellowshipping with one another, praying, and hearing the Scenes each have been given. On the day of Remembrance, the monks tell the story of how the Savior was crucified on the Tree.

For those that cannot travel to the temple, the Redeemed of the town decide where to commemorate the Savior’s sacrifice. A chosen believer, usually the eldest, tells the story of the Savior’s death and resurrection. A few others may be asked to share their Scenes.

 A typical Easter meal or Remembrance meal, is a humble meal of flatbread and wine or juice.