Sunday, February 14, 2010

 

Romancing with Kristan Higgins, author of The Next Best Thing

Happy Valentine's Day! We have the perfect author, Kristan Higgins, on The Muffin today--one who knows plenty about love, romance, and food (which just goes hand-in-hand with romance, right?). Kristan is here to talk about her new book out from Harlequin and to share her knowledge about keeping story lines fresh and interesting when writing genre books. So, without any hesitation, let's get right to Kristan!


WOW: Welcome to The Muffin, Kristan. We are so happy to talk with you today. Your book, The Next Best Thing, is out from Harlequin this month. What do readers need to know about your latest book?

Kristan: Thank you, Margo! It’s lovely to be here today. The Next Best Thing is about Lucy, a young widow trying to find a not-so-bad guy to marry, so she can have kids and move on with her life. She’s not looking to fall madly in love again — she was obviously devastated when her husband died five years ago, and she doesn’t want to be that vulnerable this time around. So, the first thing she does is distance herself from Ethan, her best friend and more recently, her friend with privileges. Their relationship is complicated, and he’s pretty much the last guy Lucy would pick as husband material.


One of my favorite things about this book is Lucy’s profession and her family, which are very much intertwined. Lucy’s a very talented pastry chef, but she works in the family bakery in the bread department while her aunts make these rather tired and uninspired pastries, cookies, and cakes. Lucy loves the family bakery and adores her aunts; but they’re all widows, too. And in Lucy’s family, you don’t remarry. You get one shot at love; and if he dies, well…that’s your bad luck. So Lucy’s bucking tradition, as it were, and it makes for some very funny scenes. And of course, it was really fun to write about all those gorgeous desserts.


WOW: What a great premise with the aunts! I love it, and I'm sure readers get hungry reading your book. I hear there's a great recipe in this book AND in your book Too Good to be True. How much does cooking play into your plots and love stories?


Kristan: Well, food is a great part of life, don’t you think? One of the things I try to do is create a character the reader can really feel she knows and an important detail is favorite food. In Too Good To Be True, Grace consoles herself with Disgustingly Rich Chocolate Brownies, which she also brings to the hero to apologize for an unfortunate incident involving a field hockey stick and the police.


In The Next Best Thing, Lucy’s profession revolves around food, of course. Her late husband was a chef, and her in-laws own an Italian restaurant; so yes, food is very important! One of the things that hints at my characters’ feelings is what they eat…and what they don’t. And yes, I’ll be posting more recipes on my website…I do love to bake, so these are all tried and true.


WOW: Just the name of those brownies from Too Good to be True sound absolutely delicious! Food and romance just seem to go together--you're right. You have several contemporary romance books out from Harlequin and more to come. How do you keep your story lines fresh and interesting since we all expect the happily ever after at the end of a romance?


Kristan: I think the first thing I do is try to be honest about the pitfalls of relationships. My characters are very real people — no one is a billionaire, staggeringly beautiful, or breathtakingly talented…in other words, they’re us! I also try to focus on the heroine’s immediate dilemma, then pick the guy who seems to be the very worst choice for her. Of course, he’s really the right guy, but I want the couple to have to earn their happily ever after. And I focus a lot on family. Families shape us into the people we are; they know our best qualities and our weak spots, too. And weaving them into the story feels very natural for me.


WOW: I like that idea of the family being involved in your books because families are so involved in our love lives whether or not we want to admit it. I love the animals on the cover of all your books. The Next Best Thing has a gray cat, looking ready to eat some of whatever your heroine is mixing in that bowl. Where did the idea come for animals on each cover? Do animals play an important role in each novel?


Kristan: The amazing people in the Harlequin art department design my covers, so I can’t take any credit, though they give me a little preview, which is always thrilling. Personally, I’ve always had pets (mostly dogs, a few cats thrown in to keep me on my toes); and making my heroines pet owners wasn’t so much a conscious decision as just a normal part of life. But I choose the heroine’s pet very carefully, and that pet reflects something about the character. In The Next Best Thing, Lucy’s cat, Fat Mikey, is a very independent animal. Dogs, in my opinion, require a lot more attention and devotion. And when Lucy acquires Fat Mikey, she’s still really hurting over her husband. It felt like a dog might be too much. So Fat Mikey keeps her company, but he doesn’t get too sentimental, either.


WOW: What a great way to reveal things about the characters through their pets. That's genius! (I'm a big pet lover, too.) You also have a blog that you regularly update. What types of information will your fans find on your blog?


Kristan: My blogs on my own website are just little vignettes about my life as a writer and as a person. I’m pretty normal…married to a real sweetheart, mom of two great kids. I’m very close with my siblings, adore my nieces and nephews, have lunch with my mom, volunteer in

our town, carpool the kids around. If anyone has any illusions about the glamorous life of the writer, they need only check in with my blog and get a reality check! There are no silk pajamas here…my dog would drool all over those, and the cat would shred them in a heartbeat.


WOW: I'm sure your fans love to read about your life, and that's a good idea for blog posts! What are you working on next?


Kristan: Right now, I’m finishing up the edits on All I Ever Wanted, which comes out

this August, and working on another romantic comedy. One of the things that’s most fun about being a writer is figuring out which of your ideas is ready to be teased out into an entire book…you never know which seedling is ready to sprout.


WOW: We are so excited, Kristan, that you shared your insights about your books and your writing life with us today. We look forward to many more great books from you to keep us reading and smiling!


Interview conducted by Margo L. Dill

http://www.margodill.com


*If you're an author interested in being interviewed and/or promoting your book, please contact Margo at margo (at) wow-womenonwriting.com for details. (Replace at with @)

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Friday, March 27, 2009

 

Baking a Romance…A Recipe for Success Part 2 of 2



By Christie Walker Bos


Continued from Baking a Romance...A Recipe for Success Part 1 of 2

There's no secret recipe for creating a romance, although there are some basic ingredients. If you want more than "white bread" you'll need to spice up the elements of your story and make it your own. In Part 1, we talked about: The Type of Bread…Determining the Genre; The Basic Ingredients…Characters are the Flour and Water of Romance; Don't Forget Yeast…Getting a Rise Out of Your Characters; and Adding Spices to Create Flavor with Your Setting. Now it's time to crank up the heat and bake your story.

Pop It In the Oven…Cranking up the Heat

Once you've assembled and mixed all the ingredients, you pop it into the oven to bake. For your romance, this means turning up the heat. Ask yourself what's at stake for your characters? The higher the stakes the more important the results will be to both your characters and your readers.

There are several ways of raising the stakes. Giving a character a history that is in direct conflict with what they must do to succeed is one sure way of creating tension. In the movie, Independence Day, Jeff Goldblum's character gets sick on airplanes and yet he must fly in an alien space ship in order to save the world. Putting your characters in unfamiliar locations or strange situations will help them develop and grow as they overcome the obstacles you put in their way.

Ding…Letting It Cool

You pull the bread out of the oven and it looks amazing. But before you cut into the loaf, it needs time to cool down. Once you have written your first draft, it's time to let your excitement cool down. Put the work aside for a week and then come back to it. I print out an entire copy of the book, sit in a nice comfy chair and read it all the way through as if seeing it for the first time. Pen in hand I make corrections to glaring spelling and grammar errors, jot down notes on new ideas, sometimes adding new twists and turns to the plot. I've found flaws in the plot that weren't obvious as I was writing but became glaring when I read the entire manuscript in one sitting, just a reader. Now that the excitement of finishing has cooled, I can look at my work more objectively, which helps me make that second, third and final draft the best it can be.

Time to Eat…Your Story is Ready

In the end, when the bread comes out of the oven and your friends take their first bite, if it makes them go, "mmmmm" then no one is going to ask about the ingredients or how you made the bread. All that matters is that it tastes great. When someone finishes reading a great romance novel, it should make them go, "ahhhh" and just like with your loaf of bread, most people aren't going to be dissecting the book's plot, setting, or character development. All they care about was whether or not you told an engaging story with memorable characters.

Making bread from scratch and writing a novel both involve a lot of hard work but the rewards can be delicious.

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Christie Walker Bos is the editor of a trade journal for the optical industry. In her "spare time" she writes romantic comedy novels. Excerpts, reviews and links to her three published novels can be found on her Web site at http://www.ChristieWalkerBos.com

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

 

Baking a Romance…A Recipe for Success Part 1 of 2

By Christie Walker Bos

Some people think all romance novels follow a secret recipe or formula and are therefore all the same. Crafting the modern romance is like baking a loaf of bread. While there are the standard ingredients that will give you a presentable finished loaf, it's what's added to the basics that can make enough types of breads to fill a bakery.

For basic white bread you need flour, yeast, butter, salt and water. For the basic romance novel you need two people who eventually fall in love, a plot/conflict that keeps them apart for most of the novel, and then a resolution that brings them together for the happy ending. Just like with baking, if you want your story to be more than just "white bread" you'll need to add to the basic ingredients to stand out on the shelf.

Type of Bread…Determining the Genre

When you set out to bake a loaf of bread, you first need to determine what type of bread you're making in order to assemble all the necessary ingredients. With a romance novel, your first order of business will be to decide what type of romance you want to write. Romance novels come in as many varieties as bread. There's the murder mystery romance in which there will be dead bodies and the paranormal romance in which the lovers are not necessarily even alive. There are historical, contemporary and science fiction romances, suspense, fantasy and inspirational love stories. Books that cross over and back again from one genre to another are making it more difficult to pigeon hole a romance novel with a specific, limiting set of ingredients.

The Basic Ingredients…Characters are the Flour and Water of Romance

In traditional romances, boy meets girl, they fall in love and they live happily ever after. Today, you might have boy meets vampire, girl meets werewolf, boy meets boy or girl meets girl. The possibilities are as boundless as your imagination. Today's romances could involve a ghost in love with a living person (Think Patrick Swayze in Ghost) or a time traveler in love with someone from the past (Think Christopher Reeve in Somewhere in Time). Add spice to the recipe by creating characters from different ethic backgrounds, different classes, different centuries, and different worlds. These differences will cause issues to arise between the characters, which brings us to our next ingredient…yeast!

Don't Forget the Yeast…Getting a Rise Out of Your Characters

When making bread, yeast is the active ingredient that makes the bread rise. When writing a story, conflict is the active ingredient that gives rise to problems that demand a solution. Without conflict, two people meet, fall in love and live happily ever after…The End. Boring. The conflict or the reason they can’t be together is what makes "the bread rise" and the story develops around how they resolve the problems that are keeping them apart.

In my romantic comedy, Getting Back to Delaney, there are two types of conflict, internal and external. Delaney, the owner of a struggling art gallery finds herself attracted to Tyler, who turns out to be helping his brother open a competing art gallery across the street. A classic conflict arises as Delaney views Tyler as the competition out to destroy her. Think You’ve Got Mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Delaney's internal conflict--a deep distrust of anything in a "male package" brought on by repeated betrayals--causes her to ignore Tyler's offers of help even though she desperately needs it, causing her gallery to teeter on the brink of bankruptcy.

Add Spices…Create Flavor with Your Setting

Think of the setting of your book as more than the actual location where events take place. The setting has a personality, it provides conflict, and it adds flavor to your book like cinnamon changes white bread into a cinnamon roll. In my novel, The Write Man for Her, the story takes place in and around Santa Monica and Marina Del Rey, California. One of the characters lives on a houseboat at the marina, which provides for sunsets on the water, love scenes in rhythm with the gentle rocking of the boat, and sets the stage for the books grand finale.

The love story Slumdog Millionaire set in the slums of India has a desperate, dangerous feeling that permeates the film like the pungent smell of curry. While in The Bridges of Madison County, the pace of the film is slow and quiet like the dust caught in a beam of light coming through the farm house window. Take care when choosing your setting, understanding that the location can enrich the plot, influence the characters and increase or decrease the tension of your story.

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In Part Two…Learn how to crank up the heat, let your story cool, and then enjoy the delicious results. (Come back for Part 2 on Friday, March 27th!)


Christie Walker Bos is the editor of a trade journal for the optical industry. In her "spare time" she writes romantic comedy novels. Excerpts, reviews and links to her three published novels can be found on her Web site at http://www.ChristieWalkerBos.com

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