Shortly after my first book hit the shelves, an acquaintance confided that she almost couldn’t finish reading it because she felt as if she were prying into my life. “It was just so… intimate!” she’d said. I was equal parts astonished that she actually thought it was autobiographical and flattered that she thought I lived (or once lived) such an exciting life. I mean, I love my life, but it’s vastly different from the fictional worlds I create for my heroines.
After I thought about it, I could see where she might have drawn that conclusion. While I’m a bit older than most of my heroines, I do tend to lend them characteristics and features similar to my own. Still, my heroines are not me. I don’t write about myself as much as I write about observations and what I find interesting.
Take, for example, my first book, REINVENTING OLIVIA. It was born one night when my husband and I were out to dinner at a trendy downtown restaurant. As we approached, I heard dance music pulsing from the loft condos above the restaurant. When I looked up, I saw a hand holding a drink over the balcony rail. I thought, wow, if I were young and single that’s where I’d live… and the story took off on its own. So, while Olivia was most decidedly not me, she was definitely a child of my imagination, born out of what-ifs and shades of possibility.
I’ll confess that within the pages of my twenty-five (and counting) books I’ve drawn strongly on my own life experiences (because the first rule of writing is write what you know). I’ve borrowed characteristics from real-life villains (uhh-hmm - bosses) and given them their comeuppance on the page, or rewritten an unsatisfying true-to-life experience so that it ended happily, but the majority of my plots and characters come from the most unexpected places. That was the case with my book WITH VIOLETS (HarperCollins) – written under my historical nom de plume, Elizabeth Robards.
I’ve always been infatuated with the French Impressionists. So when my husband and I went to Paris, I was anticipating a daytrip to Giverny, Claude Monet’s home and famous gardens. Before we boarded a train at the Gare Saint-Lazare, to make our way to Giverny, we stopped at the Musée Marmottan to see Monet’s famous ‘Impression, Sunrise’ (Impression: Soleil Levant), the painting that launched the French Impressionist movement.
Little did I know, but I was about to meet painter Berthe Morisot on the second floor of the Musée Marmottan. Not literally, of course, because she died in 1895. However, I saw her work for the first time and a photograph of her with her family. Something about the photo haunted me and urged me to research her life. In doing so, I discovered the tale of a deeply complex, richly talented woman who bucked nineteenth century convention to become one of the world’s greatest artists and the heroine of WITH VIOLETS.
The research and the story were labors of love. And while the Berthe Morisot I wrote is not really like me – well, except for her strong, independent streak and a great passion for what she loved – I think there’s a little bit of every woman in her.
In my next release A CELEBRATION CHRISTMAS (Harlequin Special Edition, November 2014). I drew inspiration from one of my favorite movies THE SOUND OF MUSIC. To make it my own, I gave it a Christmas twist. Here’s the back cover copy:
THE GREATEST GIFT OF ALL
Lily Palmer is in for the Christmas of a lifetime! When the nanny signs up to watch Dr. Cullen Dunlevy’s four foster kids, she’s got her hands full. The Thomas clan is the most mischievous group of youngsters she’s ever had to wrangle, but Lily loves the job. After all, what girl wouldn’t adore spending the holidays with a warmhearted new family—and their irresistibly handsome foster dad?
Cullen doesn’t mind Christmas, but his Scrooge-like facade is there for a reason—to protect himself. His tough childhood caused him to hide behind his work and avoid entanglements at all costs. That includes avoiding falling for the deliciously tempting new nanny that Santa left for him this year…
Anyhow, when a fertile imagination has its way with an interesting subject… Well, that’s how stories are born. Whether or not the plot is autobiographical, a writer can’t help but infuse a little of herself and the things she loves into the story.
Have you ever related to a fictional character so much that she seemed real? Who was it and what about her grabbed you?
One person who comments will win the book of her (his) choice from my backlist… Can’t wait to hear from you!
Thank you so much for having me back on Jaunty Quills – I love visiting with everyone here. One of my favorite things about creating a new book or series is coming up with names for the main characters. To me, it’s a chance to dust off all those potential baby names I loved but never used and to match up the personality of the hero or heroine with the perfect name.
What I don’t love is naming secondary characters. I have this bad habit of accidentally choosing familiar or famous names for the people who populate my books. Let’s see, his last name will be Daniels. I’ll call him Jack. Yes, Jack Daniels, that’s original. Or maybe the town gossip is named Betty. How about Betty Crocker? Or Betty White? So creative.
It may not be that extreme, but it’s close.
In my current release, A KISS ON CRIMSON RANCH, the hero is an ex-bull rider with a career-ending injury. When it came time to mention his accident, I wanted the bull to have a name. We had just spent a week with friends at a Minnesota lake and one of the huge inner tubes was called ‘Big Mable’. My daughter dared me to let her best friend’s dad pull me around the lake on the tube (note to self: never take a dare from a blood-thirsty 8 year old). She convinced my husband to take out a second boat to create extra wake behind my boat. If you haven’t tubed for a while–in my case close to thirty years–the wake makes it extra bumpy and sends the tube flying. I ended up bruised and sore and wondering whether the ride was worth the ‘cool mom’ points I got in the process. But there was no question what I was naming the bull: Big Mabel (I changed the spelling just a touch).
We went back to Minnesota this year and I made sure that my co-rider for the tube was 6 years old. He demanded slow and smooth and, not surprisingly, we didn’t fall off once.
What do you think about character names? Do they help you understand the hero and heroine better? Do you notice if the name is familiar or one you don’t love? Do you have an all-time favorite romance character name? Leave a comment below and I’ll draw two winners to receive a copy of A KISS ON CRIMSON RANCH.
Michelle Major grew up in Ohio but dreamed of living in the mountains. Soon after graduating with a degree in Journalism, she pointed her car west and settled in Colorado. Her life and house are filled with one great husband, two beautiful kids, a few furry pets and several well-behaved reptiles. She’s grateful to have found her passion writing stories with happy endings. Michelle loves to hear from her readers. Visit her on her website or find her on Facebook and Twitter.
Thank you for having me blog on Jaunty Quills today. I’m thrilled to be here and to share a bit of fun research I did for my new book, A BREVIA BEGINNING. Research is one of my favorite parts of writing. I love learning about new careers, parts of the country and the specific details that enrich each story. And trolling the internet for photos of the perfect ‘hero’ is a pretty nice perk. For A BREVIA BEGINNING, I decided that my heroine, who was on a quest for more adventure, needed to do something that took her far out of her comfort zone. She is terrified of heights so it made sense to send her ziplining. J
When I went to write the scene, I couldn’t capture the spirit of it. Why not try ziplining myself? Well, several reasons–especially since I’m also scared to death of heights. But the hands-on research seemed important and it was summer so I was looking for ways to burn off a couple of hours with my kids. There’s a zipline tour company headquartered not far from where we live in the Colorado foothills so we set out for an afternoon of adventure.
If you’ve never tried ziplining, the first thing you should know is they strap you into a most unattractive harness (as if there’s such thing as an attractive harness). However, once I saw the first zipline I was quite thankful for the heavy harness since it was going to keep me from plummeting to the rocks below.
As I stood on the edge of the first cliff, my stomach turned, my knees were weak and I thought I might not have the nerve to jump. Luckily, I’m motivated by the possibility of public humiliation and since my kids were watching from across the way and another family was waiting behind me, I took the plunge. It was more like a stumble than a graceful launch, but the sensation of soaring across the 80-foot canyon was exhilarating. After the first zipline, my courage grew and by the end of the tour I was taking running jumps over the edge. I came home and wrote my scene, confident that I could describe exactly what my heroine felt. It was a great day of summer fun and my favorite bit of research to date.
When was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone or do you have any fun adventures planned for the summer? I’d love to hear about either and will give away a copy of A BREVIA BEGINNING to one person who comments.
Michelle Major grew up in Ohio but dreamed of living in the mountains. Soon after graduating with a degree in Journalism, she pointed her car west and settled in Colorado. Her life and house are filled with one great husband, two beautiful kids, a few furry pets and several well-behaved reptiles. She’s grateful to have found her passion writing stories with happy endings. Michelle loves to hear from her readers at www.michellemajor.com.
Initially, I was going to blog about my new book, FALLING FOR FORTUNE. I really love this story. It’s book five in the current Fortunes of Texas series. It features Christopher Fortune Jones, a tortured hero who is suffering an identity crisis, and Kinsley Aaron, a strong level-headed heroine, who helps him find himself.
But then something funny happened on the way to the blog. My daughter and I found ourselves cast as the strong, level-headed heroines of our own story — or at least we were trying to be. Please let me tell you about it.
We moved College Girl home from school for the summer on Monday. The Norwegian drove the U-Haul. College Girl and I drove her car home. The entire day, everything went like clockwork. She had done a great job getting mostly packed. What wasn’t packed was nicely organized. In no time at all we were ready to head for home. The only thing was she had conveniently forgotten to fill up the car with gas. Imagine that.
She and I stopped at the gas station before we got on the highway. Since she is a princess, I paid for and pumped the fuel. Of course. Really, I didn’t mind because she’s a pretty good kid and I was so glad to see her. We had so much catching up to do. She rolled down the window to talk to me as I gassed up the car. Mid-conversation, she shrieked and jumped up on her seat, yanked off her flip flop and started pounding the passenger side floor.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“A bug! A bug! A bug! A great big palmetto bug just flew in here!”
“Oh. Ew. Really??”
Who knows what a palmetto bug is? Those of you who do probably also said, “Oh. Ew. Really??”
For those of you who don’t know…imagine the biggest cockroach you’ve ever seen. Now put wings on it and give it fearless flying superpowers. They fly at anything. I think they’re attracted to screaming and flailing arms.
**Note: I just Googled palmetto bug and discovered that the AVERAGE size is around 1.6 inches long. College Girl swore the one that flew at her was gargantuan. That’s what they look like. And don’t forget they fly. —>
She climbed out of the car.
“Did you get it?” I asked.
“No? How could you miss? I thought it was gargantuan?”
“It WAS. And it climbed up behind the glove compartment.”
“Oh. Ew. Really?”
“I think so,” she said. “Because I don’t know where it went.”
I climbed onto the front passenger seat, armed with her flip flop and a pizza special door hanger. With my butt in the air, I slapped and poked around until I was sure that the bug wasn’t in the car. Five or ten minutes later (how can you measure time at a moment like this?) I realized that the bug probably wasn’t coming out – maybe it crawled out into the engine – and guy at the pump next to us was watching us intently.
And he was laughing.
“Need some help?” he asked.
Clearly, he found our predicament amusing. The nerve.
“No, I think we’re good,” I said.
College Girl suggested we start the car to see if the sound and heat of the engine would drive it out. That’s when I remembered the time I saw a gecko in my car and recalled how it disappeared, never to be seen again. That was years ago and I never found the lizard – dead or alive.
“I’ll bet the bug got out,” I said. ”Those nasty things can squeeze through a tiny crack. Besides, we can’t spend the night here at the gas station. Don’t you think we should go?”
So, we set off, both acutely aware of the fugitive flying roach.
“So, do you think we should make a plan just in case the bug comes out?” College Girl asked. “Just in case it flies out when we’re on the interstate. So that we don’t freak out and have a wreck?”
Oh, dear God.
“Not a bad idea,” I said, suddenly having visions of us traveling on the crowded highway, and the bug either flying at me as I drove, or making its way over to the driver’s side, dropping onto my ankle and crawling up my pants leg.
Are you mentally doing the “icked-out dance of repulsion” as you read this?
I reminded myself over and over again that I could NOT – under any circumstance – do that dance. Even if the bug flew at me and landed on my nose as I drove. If I freaked out, it could cause a deadly crash. That thought instantly sobered me. Do any of you remember the blog I posted a year ago about our headlights going out on the way home from one of College Girl’s school concerts? This is the same scary highway.
So, we spent the next bit of time devising “the bug evacuation plan.”
If the bug appeared, we would both remain CALM. College Girl would CALMLY say the word, “Bug.” There would be no screaming. No swatting. No swerving. And definitely no impromptu “icked-out dances of repulsion.” She would CALMLY roll down the windows (so that it could fly out if it was so inclined). I would CALMLY keep both hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road and SLOWLY guide the car over to the shoulder. Then I would remain CALM and NOT jump out into the path of an oncoming car as I hopped into the “icked-out dances of repulsion.” I would CALMLY let myself out, being mindful of oncoming cars, and get well into the grass, then I was free to break into the dance.
We both laughed and acknowledged that if we had such a plan in place that the bug, who was probably winging its way around the gas station back in her college town, would never emerge. Hahaha!
About an hour into our trip, College Girl gasped. In her quiet, CALM hysteria, she might’ve even uttered a word that is not normally in her vocabulary. All this mama heard was a composed, “Bug.”
Keeping my eyes on the road and both hands on the wheel, I said, “Oh! Ew. Really?”
She did not roll down the windows. Instead, she started beating the ever living daylights out of the passenger side floor mat.
“Got it,” she said.
“Really?” I hadn’t even had a chance to pull off onto the side of the road.
“Good job,” I said.
We agreed that we would stop at the next exit, which happened to have a Dunkin Donuts, and dispose of the evidence and then reward ourselves for remaining so calm in the face of danger.
I would like to celebrate our level-headed victory with you. Tell me if you’ve ever had a situation where you remained calm even though it would’ve been very easy to freak out. What did you do? Or what would you have done if you’d been in our car? Would you have stayed in the college town until the bug emerged (keeping in mind that it might not have crawled out as fast as it had flown in) or would you have gotten on the highway? Five people who post on this blog will each receive a copy of my new book, FALLING FOR FORTUNE.
Please give a warm welcome to our special guest, Judy Duarte! I had the pleasure of working with Judy on Harlequin’s 2014 Fortunes of Texas series, and I was thrilled when she agreed to join us today. So, without further adieu…
You Gotta Love Those Kids…
One of the things I love about writing a romance—in addition to creating a beautiful love story—is the chance to create unique and entertaining secondary characters who add that special something to the book. And that’s why I especially enjoyed writing A HOUSE FULL OF FORTUNES!
Everyone loves a funny sidekick, a dastardly villain, or an older and wiser friend. But personally, my favorite secondary characters are children.
Having raised five of my own, I’ve also been blessed with their cousins, their friends, and now their children—my grandchildren. Needless to say, I’ve put in my share of babysitting, volunteering in the classroom, chaperoning field trips, and teaching Sunday school. I’ve cooked for kids, cleaned up after them, rocked them to sleep and disciplined them. Over the years I’ve come to understand kids and to always expect the unexpected whenever they’re in the room.
When writing Toby and Angie’s romance, I had the opportunity to create not one, but three children. Toby Fortune Jones had taken in three foster kids who had nowhere else to go. And while his heart was in the right place, he found that it isn’t always easy to juggle the needs and personalities of three youngsters. He soon found himself relying on Angie Edwards to help him with his adorable brood.
Art Linkletter was right. Kids really do say the darnedest things. That’s what makes them so fun to include as secondary characters. But when doing so, a writer needs to make them as realistic as possible.
My daughter, who is also an author, once stopped reading a book because she couldn’t wrap her head around the fact that the heroine’s son kept asking his grandmother for more helpings of her delicious okra and vegetable stew. My daughter said, “Have you ever heard a seven year old boy beg for okra? I’m sure there might be one or two out there, but at my house, it’s a battle just to get my kids to eat carrots with ranch dressing. I’m not buying it.”
So kids can be cute, they can be funny, and they can be a challenge. But when created realistically, they can add so much to the layers of a book. I tried my best to do that with Brian, Justin, and Kylie. I hope my readers agree—and that they’ll enjoy watching Angie and Toby fall in love, in spite of all the antics and obstacles they have to overcome in A HOUSE FULL OF FORTUNES!
Judy is giving away an Amazon gift card to one person who posts. So, please join in on the fun and leave a comment below.