Sunday, February 22, 2015

Bleddyn Hall–Amanda Shalaby's New Gothic Romance

Gothic romance. Just those two words send a chill down my spine. Spooky, breathtakingly scary stories with a splash of romance are among my favorite genres, but they aren't as prevalent today as they were in the past. Susan Elizabeth Phillips tried her hand at it with Heroes Are My Weakness, an homage to the greats of the genre: Mary Stewart, Anya Seton, Charlotte Bronte, Daphne du Maurier, Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney. With Amanda Shalaby's latest novel, Bleddyn Hall, we have another gothic romance author to consider. Today, she shares with us how she came up with the idea. 

An hour and a half.  That’s all it took.  I remember sitting at my writing desk that night.  The vision was sudden, it was out of nowhere and all I could do was sit there – a captive audience to the story unfolding before my mind’s eye.  My husband appeared in the doorway at one point – probably wondering about dinner.  Not now,” I managed, shooing him away with a dismissive gesture, my attention fixed on a visualization playing out before me which he could not see.  Fortunately, he understood.  An hour and a half.  And Bleddyn Hall was born.

After I recovered from my vivid hallucination, I was elated.  In the enthusiasm that came with my hour and a half epiphany, I wrote a few thousand words of dialogue between characters I was just getting to know.  I continued in this manner for several weeks as small snippets of scenes and snappy comments emerged, but there was one, small hiccup.  The story had a very clear English Victorian era setting.  My English historical education both began and ended with Regency and post-Regency.  Research was necessary.

Soon, my enthusiasm to write the story dwindled and then faded to match the backgrounds and clothing that I could not fully envision, much less write about.  The nagging voices of my characters were a constant, but not enough to force me to bring them fully to life.  I was overwhelmed, disheartened, and left to wonder: What could be done to reignite that initial zeal I felt in that hour and half of my story’s birth? 

There were occasions, naturally, where I would click around on the internet for information on Victorian life.  I would feel a spark, write a few more thousand words – only to have said spark fizzle out once again.  What I realized was I needed to fully immerse myself in the era – as much as a 21st Century American girl can do. 

Suddenly, the speakers in my car played an endless playlist of classical music, my Kindle was stocked with the popular novels of the times, (as well as a number of gothic classics my heroine would have enjoyed), and non-fiction books arrived on my doorstep, one after another.  Actual paper, ink and glue books that I could strew across my couches and pile high on my tables – a constant, visual reminder of my goal.  Was there any one thing that did the trick, above all others?  I couldn’t tell you.  But the ballpoint pen was figuratively rolling, and Bleddyn Hall came together just a few months later.

Really, what it all came down to was making it happen.  What worked for me may not work for you.  What mattered was doing whatever it took to push aside life’s time-suckers and anxieties, and forcing myself to remember what was important.  And what I found in the end – and what I’m sure you will also find – is when you set your mind to make the effort, your initial enthusiasm is never really that far off. 

Amanda L. V. Shalaby's passion for all things Jane Austen was inspired by her mother and grandmother. She now writes her own English historical romances, and is the author of RhiannaAudra and Bleddyn Hall. When Amanda is not writing, she enjoys spending time with her husband, Matthew, her Shih Tzu dogs, Bella and Huntley, and her Persian cat, Sebastian.

You can find Amanda in a variety of places, and among them.  But the best place to find her is at her WordPress site,  From there, you can learn more about her, view all of her books, catch up on upcoming events and news, and links to buy her books at the major ebook retailers.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Valentine's Day, One Day Late

Whoever decided to make February 14 Valentine's Day did not have Ohio in mind when they thought it up. I wanted all the traditional candies–the big Necco hearts with the sayings on them, the red-hot cinnamon little hearts, the chocolates. Oh, yes, the chocolates. But Friday, when I finally made my way through the mountain of snow to the grocery store, the shelves were bare. What's a Valentine's Day without red-hots?

Which got me to thinking about Valentines past. And the Hallmark channel's lineup of Valentine movie offerings. I hauled out the kleenex for Betty White's performance about a World War II soldier who never came home. He was officially listed MIA all the years, until an intrepid reporter tracked down his remains. When Betty was handed his personal effects, there was a weathered, hand-made Valentine she had given him as he was pulling out of the station. He'd kept it close to his heart all those years.

Which made me think about two hand-made Valentines I'd received over the years. One was given to me by another fifth-grader. His hand-made Valentine was different from all the store-bought ones that were also in my bag, and I cherished it as only a fifth-grader can. I recently checked on the man's whereabouts, and discovered he'd just retired from a long career as an art teacher in a high school. I'm sad to say his Valentine to me long ago disappeared. The other one was a Valentine I made for my sweetheart. I used the Necco hearts as my gag line, as it were. I wrote a poem, but instead of writing the words, I put a heart shape everywhere the words were to be. Then, I sent the hearts in the envelope along with the poem, and he had to figure out which heart went where, in order to make sense of my rhyme. That Valentine is certainly not being kept close to his heart, I can guarantee it.

So, as I sit here in my candy-less home, surrounded by snowdrifts on every side, I think about those Valentine's Days I have yet to come. I'm a firm believer in second-chance romance, and I've got a high school reunion coming up. Who knows? Maybe my artist from the fifth grade will be there.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

February in Ohio

If you've been following the weather in the States, you are already aware that it's been an exceptional winter for snow in the midwest and east. With at least a foot of snow on the ground, I've been spending a lot of time watching television.

Over the past few days, I've spent hours watching a pretty young lady whose business is buying old homes, fixing them and flipping them. In my younger days, I did just that with several properties, but could never afford to make it a business. There's something about rescuing a house and making it shine again, a feeling you don't get from anything else. This particular woman has a passion for accurate restoration. No open concept floor plans for her. She wants the original integrity of the house brought back again. I like that.

And it got me to thinking how rehabbing a house is similar to fixing a bad manuscript. You take it a room, or a chapter, at a time, and strip it back to its basics, making sure the good bones are there. Then, staying true to the type of house or story you have,  you add details, color, embellishments, fix the holes, and move on to the next. In the end, you'll have a house that stands taller now that it's once again pretty, or you'll have a manuscript that everyone wants to read.

And, if I'm no longer able to do the heavy lifting involved with an actual house rehab, I can use my experiences to write a story about it. Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The First 500

Ask any writer about their method of writing and you'll get a different answer each time. Colleen McCullough, who death is currently being mourned, was a manic writer, who could pen 20,000 words in one 18-hour sitting. I'm sure there are other manic writers out there, especially during November, when NaNo is going on, but I'm not one of them.

I use Scrivener to write my first drafts. This program not only allows me to color-code in whose head I am with each scene, it allows me to set a schedule for the project, and then it calculates the amount of words I need to write each day in order to accomplish my goal and get the work done on schedule. It will even flash a "Goal Met"indicator and ring a bell for you.

My current WIP is the 8th book in the Cotillion Ball Series, and is the first book in which I face the effects of the Civil War head on. The setting is MacDougall Hospital, set on Fort Schuyler in the Bronx. At the height of the Civil War conflict, this hospital cared for 2,000 wounded soldiers. The tone of the book is much darker than my normal, because of the subject matter, but I'm finding it exhilarating to write. That is, after the first 500 words.

My writing goal, according to the almighty Scrivener, is nearly 1,000 words a day. Which roughly translates to one scene a day. I like to write this way, since I can stay clearly in one person's head throughout. Today, it was Elijah's turn. I planned how I was going to start the scene last night, as I was drifting off to sleep, so I tore up the screen for the first 80 words or so. Then, I stared at the blinking cursor for several minutes, uncertain where to head. The next sentence came to me as if through a vat of molasses, then the one after that. I kept pulling down the "Targets" tab on my Scrivener program to see how many words I had yet to go. When I got to 200 words for the day, I got stuck, so I stared at the pulsating cursor for a few more minutes. The rest of the scene unfolded in my head, finally, and I began to type quickly. When the bell rang that I had met my goal, I wasn't ready to stop, so I kept going until the scene was finished.

I surprised myself that I completed the scene, and that once I got past the first 500 words, I got so sucked into the scene that the ringing bell was an annoyance rather than a blissful chime signaling that my day's torture was done. And the little extra bonus from not stopping until the scene was done? Tomorrow, when I settle in to write the next scene, I'll have a few fewer words to write to get to my daily goal.

So, how about you? Do you write in all-out sprints like Colleen McCullough, or do you plod along like I do? I'm curious to see how many different styles I'll be able to record in the comments.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Selecting a Cover

One of the most rewarding–and most stressful–parts of having a book published is approving a cover design. Covers are one of the most important parts of any book, especially in this digital age. Your cover design is the size of a thumbnail, and it's all you have to make a reader stop, look, and read your most important element–the blurb. Then, and only then, will a person make the decision to buy your book. So while covers won't necessarily sell copies, it can make people stop and read about your book, and maybe buy it.

This time, my historic romance takes place not in New York, but in the wild country west of the Mississippi in 1860. So, I got to include something I haven't been able to before–a horse!

I was so excited about the opportunity, I've been gathering pictures of wild horses for months now. The story, Expressly Yours, Samantha, is about two people involved in the new Pony Express, which began in April, 1860.

But a horse is not enough to stop a reader in her tracks and read the book blurb. I needed something more. My publisher wanted it to evoke the idea of romance, since that's what I write, but I had a problem with all the lovely women who were nuzzling horses. They were too pretty.

What, you say? How can someone be too pretty? Isn't the idea of a cover to make a person stop and look? And wouldn't they be drawn to a pretty face, rather than a not-so-pretty one?

I get where the designers were coming from. But the heroine is passing herself off as a boy at the start  of the book, on the run from an abusive uncle. So a beautiful ingenue with a wide smile just didn't work. I wanted a haunted face, one that could realistically be mistaken for a boy, with the right haircut. And I wanted her standing against a horse.

I have to admit, the designers did it. I can't show the cover off yet, but it works. I'm glad they took the time to make it right. Will I miss a few readers because there's not a pretty face on the cover? Possibly. But if they take a moment to look into the haunted eyes of my heroine, they'll hopefully be intrigued enough to read the blurb. And maybe buy the book.

Expressly Yours, Samantha, will be released March 16. Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Sound Of Silence

If you've been following this blog for a while, you already know that my sister, Pat, moved in with me last year. She set up the finished half of the basement as her domain, but after the first few months, decided she preferred to be upstairs. She was quiet when I worked in the mornings, and we enjoyed each other's company, so it worked well, despite the reservations we originally had on both sides.

She has the flexibility to travel, and from the beginning, told me she'd be elsewhere during Ohio's harsh winters. So, last week, she took off, driving cross-country away from the snow and ice, to spend the winter in Phoenix and Shreveport, with a side trip to San Diego thrown in for good measure. My dog, Mary, and I waved goodbye, a tad jealous, but also looking forward to getting back to my old routine.

So what happened? A wild streak of creativity? A feverish bout of writing getting me way ahead of schedule? Ideas for story lines for as yet unplanned novels coming at me fast and furious?

No. Crickets are what happened. Silence.

I've been polishing up a manuscript I'd been working on since before she left, and my next Cotillion Ball story is coming together as outlined. But nothing new. I've been moping, as has Mary.

It's strange, since I've lived alone for years. I should be used to this.

How about you? Does anyone have a trick they use to jumpstart those creative juices? If so, please share. April's a long way off.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Devil She Knew–Interview with Rena Koontz

One of my favorite people, Rena Koontz, takes time out from teasing us all with her pictures from Venice Beach (bare feet in the sand as we all shiver here in Ohio), to stop by for a visit today. Her book, The Devil She Knew, is on sale for only 99 cents until January 16. If you haven't snagged your copy yet, now's the time.

The research for this book deserves its own story. Here's Rena to talk about how she did it.

He’s dead now – the real Tony DelMorrie, that is.

Yes, the mob guy in my romantic suspense, “The Devil She Knew,” was a real-life Mafioso. A “made guy,” sometimes called a wiseguy, is someone who has been officially inducted, usually as a soldier, into a Mafia family. That was Tony in real life. And I met him.

My husband and I were out with a friend in downtown Cleveland one Saturday night, dropping in and out of various fun spots, when we wandered into Tony’s coffee shop – yeah, the same one depicted in the book. My husband, then an FBI agent, knew who Tony was but never expected him to be there, working the floor like a Las Vegas nightclub entertainer. Gold chains ringed his bulging neck and dripped down onto black chest hairs. I could see them because Tony had his shirt partially unbuttoned – a flashback to disco days.

Heavy, gold rings weighed down his fingers and dug into my own when he shook my hand. It was his pleasure to meet me, he said, adding that such an Italian-looking face as mine belonged in his café. I feared he would notice how sweaty my palms were or the crack in my voice when I thanked him.
And then Mrs. DelMorrie came to the table. The TV show depicting mob wives is not exaggerated. She was fake nails, fake lashes, fake boobs and a hair color that rivaled a Sherwin-Williams sample palette. She batted her eyelashes at the men and called me “hon,” insisting I sample a piece of red velvet cake, the house specialty. “It’s the best you’ll ever eat, Hon. With your figure, you don’t even have to worry about calories.”

Yes, they were both charmers. No, the cake wasn’t the best. The icing was so sweet I could feel my arteries clogging as I swallowed. But I wasn’t about to decline the offered piece. I chewed fast, anxious to make an exit.

I knew Tony’s reputation and was privy to inside knowledge about his character. It’s what helped me make him so real in my book – because he was real.

“The Devil She Knew,” is my second romantic suspense released by Crimson Romance. If this blog has piqued your interest about the story, now is a good time to order. It’s discounted to 99-cents between Jan. 8-16  on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, The Crimson Romance store and other e-book retailers.

Thank you, Becky, for allowing me to share a tidbit about my book.