Posted by Christina Brooke Apr 15 2010, 3:53 am in Christine Wells, prize winners, The Dangerous Duke
by Christine Wells
Thank you all so much for sharing your bad mommy stories with me and telling me about your favourite competent heroes and heroines. I must admit, it was very therapeutic:)
Linda, Gamistress66 and Kirsten!!
You have each won a signed copy of THE DANGEROUS DUKE.
Please send me your snail details at christine AT christine-wells Dot com and I’ll send those books out to you.
Posted by Christina Brooke Jul 11 2009, 4:02 am in Anna Campbell, Anna Sugden, Christine Wells, Donna MacMeans, kirsten scott, pitching, Scandal's Daughter, Suzanne Welsh, The Dangerous Duke, Wicked Little Game, writing craft
by Christine Wells
Many of us in Romanceland are eagerly anticipating the national conference of Romance Writers of America® in Washington D.C. next week. A large number of our Bandita Buddies are aspiring writers, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about pitching your manuscript.
There are all kinds of pitches, from the short elevator pitch (useful for cocktail parties or casual encounters with publishing professionals) to the longer, blurb-style pitch you might use in a scheduled meeting. Which you use depends on the circumstances, but two things must be present: conflict and what I call ‘sexy’ words—specific details from your story that have that ‘wow’ factor. These are the kinds of words that imply high stakes, immediacy, humor, quirkiness, mystery, intrigue or yes, sometimes, plain old sex. We’re all interested in those things, right? Specifics will set your book apart from the herd.
Taking a well-known concept and giving it a twist can be an effective way of pitching a story. The high concept pitch Anna Campbell used for her debut novel CLAIMING THE COURTESAN, which sold to Avon at auction, was Pretty Woman by candlelight. Everyone has seen the movie Pretty Woman or at least knows the premise. The twist is setting the story in the Regency period (the candlelight reference), when a courtesan was wholly in her keeper’s power.
When Kirsten Scott sold her young adult novel, DELCROIX ACADEMY: THE CHOICE in a ‘good’ deal to Hyperion, her agent called it X-Men for girls. That succinct, three word pitch speaks volumes, doesn’t it? It gives you the tone, the subgenre, the type of conflict and the fresh twist.
My pitch for WICKED LITTLE GAME was Indecent Proposal with a Regency twist.
Of course, the movie world is where the high concept pitch was born. The movie ALIEN was pitched as Jaws in space. If you want to find more examples of high concept pitches for movies, you can search IMDB by keyword.
But the movie with a twist won’t work for every story, and can be risky unless you refer to a blockbuster or a classic. Even then, if the editor or agent hated the movie or didn’t see it or just doesn’t get the significance of the twist, you’ve lost her. So, let’s move on to the slightly longer logline.
Anna Sugden, whose fabulous Panic-Free Pitching workshop handout is on her website, has a perfect logline for LOVE BY BEQUEST: A Texas cowboy inherits an English sheep farm. Now, the conflict is obvious, isn’t it? A classic fish out of water story. For the logline, you don’t even need to know who the heroine of this romance is. That comes later in the blurb-style paragraph in your query. Don’t try to tell the whole story in this short, one line pitch.
For her recent release, THE EDUCATION OF MRS. BRIMLEY, Donna MacMeans used this logline: A Victorian strip-tease. Yep, that’s it. Intrigued? Go buy the book!
Donna’s next novel for Berkley, THE TROUBLE WITH MOONLIGHT, was about a Victorian heroine who turns invisible in moonlight. Just her, not her clothes. Donna says: ‘Did I mention she’s a bit of a thief? If you want her to get something for you, she’ll do it for a price but it’s always during a full moon and, of course, she must be…’ You fill in the blank! A nekked invisible heroine thieving in Victorian England? Now that’s something I want to read. This pitch juxtaposes paranormal and historical romance in a fresh and intriguing way.
For her manuscript REFUGE, Suzanne Welsh’s more detailed pitch uses specific language to convey high-stakes action and conflict. After witnessing a senator’s assassination, a spinster-librarian flees into the west as a mail-order bride to escape the clutches of the murderer.
Look at how many specific, ‘sexy’ words Suzanne uses to really enhance the punch of her pitch: senator (high profile implies high stakes) assassination (again, high stakes) spinster librarian (rightly or wrongly, we assume someone intelligent, sheltered and quiet, someone who must struggle to face the challenges ahead of her) the west (again, fish out of water scenario here) mail-order bride (hints at romance and an interesting conflict for someone labeled ‘spinster’) escape a murderer (high stakes, suspense).
I pitched my Berkley historical romance, THE DANGEROUS DUKE like this: A duke accidentally steals a lady’s erotic diary. Can you see this is going to be a sexy story about stolen secrets? Are you already wondering what will happen when my hero reads that diary and whether he’ll be caught out? I hope so!
Notice that none of these pitches goes into detail about the story. They focus on piquing the reader’s interest, that’s all. Usually, in a query letter or formal pitch session you need more detail than that, but it’s a great tactic to have the logline front and centre, before you move on to the longer blurb. A real sock-it-to-’em sentence that makes an agent or editor give the rest of your query their full attention. The ‘what if’ question can work well for this purpose, too.
For more examples of pitches that work, read through the deals on Karen Fox’s wonderful website.
Now, not every book lends itself to a logline. My advice—write a book that does. That’s not as flippant as it might appear. Think about it—if a book lends itself to a dynamic, interesting hook, isn’t it more likely to be a dynamic, interesting book? Plus, writing a logline for your story before you begin gives you a sharpened focus, a touchstone to keep your story on track.
However, if you are submitting and you just can’t get that snappy one-liner, don’t despair. For my first novel, SCANDAL’S DAUGHTER, I wrote a standard one paragraph pitch and it had a 100% success rate. Which is not to say that every editor or agent offered representation or a contract, but everyone I queried asked for more.
That’s all a pitch can do for you. In the end, the proof is in the pages.
If you’re a reader, do you find the ‘high concept’ attracts you to a story if you haven’t read an author before? Can you think of any intriguing ways just one line about a story or a movie has captured your attention? I’d love to know your thoughts.
If you’re a writer, pitch us your logline (and yes, published and unpublished writers are welcome to do this). Or share your own tips for writing great pitches. We have it on good authority that some editors and agents read our blog, so if you’re an unpubbed, give it your best shot!
For those attending National, if you would like to win a one hour session with me at National to work on your pitch or even just chat about writing in general, please state it in your comment. I’ll post the winner before I leave for D.C. on Monday and we can arrange a mutually convenient time.
Posted by Christina Brooke Jun 11 2009, 4:15 am in Christine Wells, heroes, The Dangerous Duke, Warrior heroes, Wicked Little Game
by Christine Wells
Despite certain aspersions cast by one Anna Campbell in yesterday’s blog:), I’m a peaceable person by nature. As a child, I practised the odd faux karate move on my brother and the other annoying boys in my neighbourhood, but since those days, I haven’t really been one for confrontation of any kind, much less the physical.
There are incidents in every woman’s life when her man might see the need to defend her with his fists. A couple of times, I’ve been sick with apprehension in just that situation, because rather than thinking how romantic it is to have a man protect me, I get scared that maybe the other fellow has a knife or has friends nearby, or if my defender did punch the other guy’s lights out, he might get arrested.
In fiction, however, it’s another matter.
Big strong men who are prone to violence–I love reading about them and I love writing about them, too. THE DANGEROUS DUKE opens with my hero, Max, Duke of Lyle, dangling a man over a balustrade by the ankles until he agrees to hand over valuable information. In fact, that was the image from which the entire book sprang. If you read Max’s story, you’ll get a sense of a man who will stop at nothing to achieve his aims.
In my July release, WICKED LITTLE GAME, the Marquis of Vane has the huge, honed physique of a seasoned prizefighter. Unlike many of the Regency beaux who spar in Jackson’s Boxing Saloon, Vane is a serious athlete. He trains with commitment and passion, the same way he does everything else (including love my heroine, Lady Sarah, but that’s another blog!) I modeled him on Captain Barclay, a gentleman athlete who trained many top prizefighters of the day.
When Lady Sarah sees Vane stripped to the waist, engaging in sparring practice with a hulking great giant in his empty ballroom, she experiences a visceral reaction:
Nothing could have been farther from his usual demeanor than the sight that met her eyes in his ballroom tonight: a wild, primitive display of masculine aggression.
She ought to be disgusted. She’d never seen anything more magnificent in her life.
What is it about these fictional warriors that we love so much? Have you ever had your honour defended? (I know Donna has a story about that!) Were you scared, disgusted, triumphant? Did you tell him to step out of the way so that *you* could kick some butt?
Who is your favourite fictional warrior hero?
Posted by Anna Campbell Jun 10 2009, 4:02 am in Anna Campbell, Bandita Booty, Christine Wells, Jo Robertson, RITAs, Romance Writers of Australia, Romantic Book of the Year Award, The Dangerous Duke, untouched, Woman's Day magazine
by Anna Campbell
I don’t think it’s any secret to our regular buddies that we LURVE awards and contests here in the lair. After all, it was a contest, the 2006 Golden Heart Award, that brought us together and mayhem has ensued every since.
Most of us are still bona fide contest sl*ts (sorry, girls, but I need to call a spade a spade) and our impressive list of continuing successes are listed in the Bandits Wanted column on the right of the blog.
The big daddy of published romance contests, of course, is the RITA Award.
I’m so excited that one of my favorite reads from last year, Christine Wells’s wonderful THE DANGEROUS DUKE is up for best Regency romance. Go, Christine. I’ll be cheering.
Well, I’ll have to or else you’ll hit me, seeing you’ve asked me to be your date for the awards night! You pack a seriously scary right hook, my elegant friend!
I too have some seriously exciting award news to report!
Romance Writers of Australia and our most popular women’s mag, Woman’s Day, unite every year to sponsor the Australian and New Zealand Romance Novel of the Year Award, the R*BY.
Last year, CLAIMING THE COURTESAN finalled which was incredibly exciting for me. This year, I’m delighted to let you know that my second book, UNTOUCHED, has finalled in the Long Romance Section. Go, you green monster!
This is a huge thrill for me, particularly as regarding contests in the U.S., I didn’t have a horse in the running in 2008 (the Australian publication date for Untouched was January, 2008). I had a real crush on Lord Sheene, the hero of this book, and it’s wonderful to know that other people have responded so positively to the story too.
Another nice effect locally is there’s publicity via Woman’s Day, including the announcement of the finalists on 1st June, the announcement of the winners and a chance to write another short story for WD. The mag has a huge circulation so this is a seriously big deal!
Anyway, huge congratulations to all the other finalists. It’s a stellar line-up and I’m proud just to be listed among you. It will be an exciting Saturday night at the awards dinner for the local conference in Brisbane on 15th August when they announce the winners.
So what’s your feeling about awards? Would they influence you to buy a book? I know I’ve checked out books that have won RITAs before and found authors new to me that I’ve ended up loving. Actually that’s one of the great things about awards – they focus your attention on books you may have missed along the way.
I must say it’s fun being in the audience for an awards night. It’s a great excuse to get all glammed up and cheer on your friends! It’s so exciting, whether you’ve been nominated or not!
So this got me thinking. If you could attend any awards – the Booker announcements, the Academy Awards, the Nobel Prizes, the Golden Globes (now, that’s one that always looks like fun), the MTV Awards (I’m too old and square for that one!), the Emmys, the Grammys, the Logies, the BAFTAS, the SAG Awards (hmm, think I could win one of those. Oh, they’re not for how gravity’s attacked your body?), whatever, which one would you choose. And who would be your date?
And to celebrate my R*BY nomination for UNTOUCHED, one lucky commenter wins a signed copy of my green monster. Please let me know in your answer if you want to be in the draw! Good luck!
Posted by Christina Brooke Jan 14 2009, 4:50 am in Bandit Booty, Christine Wells, The Dangerous Duke
Well, my monitor is still sssmokin’ from all the great pictures the BBs sent in for our sheer viewing pleasure. Thanks for making it a fun day, everyone!
And the winner, according to the random number generator is…
DANIE!!! CONGRATULATIONS!! Please send your snail address to me via the contact page on my website to collect your prizes.
Posted by Christina Brooke Jan 10 2009, 9:48 pm in Christine Wells, heroes, The Dangerous Duke
by Christine Wells
At a recent writers’ festival where Anna Campbell and I sat on a panel about historical fiction, a man in the audience asked us what was the appeal of Regency-set historical romance. Anna instantly quipped: “Men in Boots”.
Now, of course that was a (largely) flippant reply, but I will be the first to admit it is part of the appeal.
Having heard from wonderful writers like Jenny Crusie and Anne Gracie how effective collaging has been for their creative thought processes, I gave it a try for The Dangerous Duke. I’m not sure I have the hang of it yet, but it certainly helped capture the mood of the story. I’d look at the chart I’d made and fall into that world–a welcome change from staring at a blank page.
I often envy contemporary writers their ability to walk into a thrift shop or somewhere and say ‘oh, that’s the jacket my heroine wears in the first scene’. You can touch the fabric, try it on to see how it would fit across someone’s shoulders. As an historical writer you can’t do things like that so easily, unless you live near collections of period garments or stately houses. I should be so lucky!
Finding pictures of Men in Boots for my collages is a challenge. I want men who look like they could be a hero in my novel, or even a villain. The typical male model you see in magazines is tanned and muscled from gym workouts which sculpt him into a different shape from an English aristocrat of the Regency era, no matter how much riding, fencing, manual labor, etc the aristocrat might have done. And let’s face it, many models, however gorgeous, have absolutely nothing going on behind their eyes. They don’t project the sort of personality you want in a hero.
Usually, I look for actors in period dramas for my collage heroes. And thanks to the resurgence of Austen and Bronte adaptations, there’s an increasing number of images to be found.
Most often these men don’t really look like my hero at all. There might be an expression, an aura, a tilt of the head that’s just right, however, and that’s enough.
If you’re a writer, have you tried collaging? How has it worked for you? If you’re a reader, who would you cast as hero in your favourite romance? URLs if possible, please, so we can check them out–ahem, I mean judge whether they are of the right calibre for heroes in a romance.
One random winner will score chocolate and a signed copy of The Dangerous Duke.
Posted by Christina Brooke Dec 11 2008, 1:43 am in Bandit Booty, Christine Wells, The Dangerous Duke, travel
by Christine Wells
It will come as no surprise to many of you that I’ve been traveling a lot lately. First it was New Zealand and the awe-inspiring mountains, cool alpine streams and the eccentric Lanarch Castle with its Alice in Wonderland gardens. Then a week or two at home to do edits for WICKED LITTLE GAME followed by another jaunt, this time to Japan, where the autumn foliage is spectacular, the Geishas gorgeous and the sake potent, whether taken hot or cold.
Tommorrow we head up to the Great Barrier Reef with my sister-in-law and her family and later in the month, up to our beach house for Christmas and then on to another coastal resort.
Phew! That’s a lot of traveling for someone who’s a homebody at heart. In between all this globe-trotting, I’ve caught up with writer and reader friends and that has been even more fun because of the contrast between the foreign and the familiar. If anyone ever gets a chance to stay with Anna Campbell for a weekend of wine, seafood and…song?? –take it! Denise Rossetti and I are already discussing how we can wangle another invitation.
No matter where I go, or how wonderful a time I have there, I’m always glad to come home to Brisbane, Australia–to the bright subtropical light that stings the retinas as soon as you get out of the plane and the sky that seems somehow bluer, to the humidity and the heat and the scent of fresh-cut grass mixed with barbecue scents and watermelon by the pool. And toilets you don’t have to squat over:)
Similarly, I love coming ‘home’ to the Bandit lair…where everybody knows your name.
Because this will be the last time I’ll be posting for the year, I’d like to say a HUGE thank you–first to the lovely and talented Banditas, for being the best friends a girl could have and to the Bandita buddies, who have enriched all our lives and supported us in so many ways.
To all of you who aspire to be published, may 2009 be your year to shine, and to all our published friends, may you hit the New York Times list or win a RITA (or both) and may all of you stay happy and healthy and keep coming back for good times in the Lair.
So what’s your favourite thing about home? Are you a traveler or a homebody? What is your #1 dream destination?
Oh, and I’m very sorry that I STILL haven’t announced the winner of my last contest. And the winner is…MsHellion! You’ve won a signed copy of THE DANGEROUS DUKE. Congrats and if you send me your details at christineATchristine-wellsDOTcom I’ll get that book to you pronto.
Posted by Christina Brooke Nov 11 2008, 5:00 am in Christine Wells, historical romance, historicals, Nursery Rhymes, The Dangerous Duke
by Christine Wells
I’m often asked why I chose to write historical romances and why I set them in England.
English history has fascinated me ever since I can remember. I suspect it’s something to do with the glamour of royalty, the political power struggle between kings and subjects and the fun of discovering the origin of so many traditions and expressions that endure throughout the English-speaking world today.
It was my father who first introduced me to this wonderfully rich world of history. When I was very young, he would tell me enthralling tales about English kings and queens, great battles and epic struggles for the crown. He had a way of making history come alive that I can only strive to emulate in my novels.
I’ll never forget the way he disillusioned me about some of the innocent-seeming nursery rhymes I grew up with!
Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row.
Sounds delightful, doesn’t it? But there’s quite a bloody history to that little verse. It referred to the reign of Queen Mary, Henry VIII’s daughter, during which she put many Protestants to torture and death. Silver bells were thumbscrews, cockle shells were instruments attached to the genitals. (Ouch!) Pretty maids referred to the Maiden, a forerunner of the guillotine, used for more efficient beheading. It seems the plain old executioner’s axe didn’t do the job in one go a lot of the time. Yikes!
Baa Baa Black Sheep was a protest about wool taxes. Pop Goes the Weasel is thought to be about many a poor man’s habit of pawning his Sunday coat to pay for his pleasures, then redeeming it in time for church on Sunday. “Weasel and stoat” was Cockney rhyming slang for coat, and to “pop” was to pawn.
Old Mother Hubbard is actually about Cardinal Wolsey’s failure to secure Henry VIII a divorce from Katherine of Aragon. It’s interesting that so many rhymes seem to come from Tudor times.
And for a more obscure reference, did you know that Little Miss Muffet actually existed? Her name was Patience and her stepfather was a famous entomologist who wrote the first catalogue of British insects. One of his spiders escaped while poor Patience was eating her breakfast, and so the nursery rhyme came about.
What was your favourite nursery rhyme as a child? Do you know any nursery rhymes with interesting backgrounds? If you’re a reader of historicals, what attracts you to that era? One lucky reader will win a signed copy of THE DANGEROUS DUKE!
Posted by Christina Brooke Oct 24 2008, 3:55 am in Bandit Booty, Christine Wells, Denise Rossetti, The Dangerous Duke, The Flame and the Shadow
CONGRATULATIONS to Helen, who wins a signed ARC of DENISE ROSSETTI’S fabulous upcoming release, THE FLAME AND THE SHADOW!! Email Denise via her website with your snail mail details and collect your prize!
Christine Wells also has some tardy prizes to announce:
From her Happy Cake blog, ArkieRN wins chocolate for her sad scarf story. Woohoo!
From The Thinking Woman’s Spy, Limecello wins a signed copy of THE DANGEROUS DUKE and RebekaH and Dina win the Dangerous stationery! Please contact Christine via the contact page on her website to claim your prize!
Posted by Christina Brooke Sep 11 2008, 4:05 am in BBC Drama, Christine Wells, Hugh Laurie, Matthew McFadyen, MI5, Richard Armitage, Rupert Penry-Jones, Spies, Spooks, The Dangerous Duke
by Christine Wells
Fiction writers take inspiration from everywhere–real life, research, classic stories, legends, even fairytales.
And I must admit ::hanging head:: that sometimes my inspiration comes from television.
I don’t watch much TV but lately, I’ve been hooked on a UK television series about some dangerous men and women. Spooks is the colloquial term for British MI5 operatives, the spies who deal with threats to national security on a domestic level. This series about a small handful of top operatives, run by spymaster Harry Pierce, makes for compelling drama.
A stellar cast over 6 series (so far) includes:
Matthew McFadyen (Darcy in the 2005 Pride & Prejudice movie)
Rupert Penry-Jones (who also starred in the wonderful production Cambridge Spies) (right)
Hugh Laurie (House, Blackadder) makes an appearance as the snobby, insufferable head of MI6. I could watch Laurie in anything. He’s such a versatile actor. Although if you happen to have only seen him in House and then watch Jeeves and Wooster, you might be in for a shock!
Soon to arrive on Spooks is Richard Armitage–that alone is enough reason to watch, quite apart from brilliant writing, masterly acting and edge of the seat action. I cannot WAIT for the next series!
Be prepared for casualties on the way–many of them central characters. Sad as I am to let beloved characters go, it definitely adds authenticity and an edge to the danger and suspense to know that no one is safe.
And while they’re good at what they do, these Spooks are human, too. They struggle to maintain normal relationships outside the service and they question the morality of their choices and their methods every day. What’s equally interesting is that they’re not James Bond-style superhuman types. They can fight, but they tend to use intelligence, resourcefulness and a few dirty tricks rather than muscle to achieve their ends. Sometimes they don’t win. And sometimes they win, but at immense personal cost. Can you see why a fiction writer would lap this stuff up?
And did I mention Richard Armitage will be starring in the next series?
In The Dangerous Duke, my hero Lyle works for the Regency era Home Office in a capacity very similar to these Spooks, until he unexpectedly inherits a title and the responsibilities that go with it. He’s ruthless and competent, and his mantra has always been that the end justifies the means.
Then he meets Lady Kate, who is powerful in a different way. She has been the confidant and advisor to many important men in government. When she decides to wield her power to protect someone she loves, she becomes a formidable opponent for Lyle. But it’s the danger each senses in the other that they find so compelling, and it’s not long before they’re playing the most dangerous game of all…
Do you like danger? In movies, books, real life? What’s your favourite dangerous thrill?
I’m giving away a signed copy of The Dangerous Duke and assorted Dangerous Duke stationery to a handful of lucky winners!