Friday, 29 June 2012

My split identity social networking strategy

Well, what a lovely time I had on Tuesday. Lunch was at Brasserie Max which I can totally recommend if money is no object. Important things first:  I had asparagus and a poached egg with champagne hollandaise to start, followed by the daily special, a pork chop with thyme jus.  Yum, yum, yum.   Oh, yes, and we talked about me, me, me.  Really, what could be nicer?

Jessica Hart
My fantasy about the publicist telling me not to bother about social media got a laugh, but as suspected, remains a fantasy. Starting next week (aarrgghh) I will be writing two blogs, one here as Jessica Hart and another as Pamela Hartshorne, for which I am going to have to reinvent myself and be serious and sensible.  No more wittering. No more holiday pics.  No more whingeing about the writing process.  Oh dear me, no.  We’re talking history and research and proper author stuff over there. 

Pamela Hartshorne: spot the difference?

Confusingly, this means that the real me will be carrying on here under an assumed name, while I assume a false identity to blog under my real name.  I’ve been trying to update this blog twice a week (in between holidays) but will have to scale back to once a week I think or my head might explode.

And then there’s Facebook. I have a very happy time on my Jessica Hart page but now I’m going to have to be a different person there too.  I set up a Pamela Hartshorne page some time ago in fact and currently have all of 2 likes (wonder who the other person is!)  - if you’re on Facebook and can bear to pop over and ‘like’ me, it would be much appreciated!  - and I've made a total mess of Twitter, twittering as @PamHartshorne but really Jessica Hart, and as a result am not sure WHO I am now. 

Still, it has to be done. Everyone says so.  I have a nasty feeling my split personality strategy is going to be a hard one to pull off, but I’ll have a go.  Want to take bets on how long I last before beating my head on the desk?  

So I'll be back in a week.  Be good until then, and have a great weekend.

Monday, 25 June 2012

The place of manicures on a priority list

Oh, dear, my careful schedule is shot to pieces.  It’s fatal to lose momentum when writing, and after visitors on Friday, the course on Saturday, going to a wedding party, having guests, going out for a drink last night (hair of the dog) and coffee this morning, getting nails done … well, you can see how easy it is to slip behind.

You might think that getting my nails done is hardly a priority under the circumstances, but tomorrow I am off to London for the day to have lunch with my editor, my agent and my publicist.  (Hang on, I need to say that again in case you didn’t get how cool it was: lunch with my editor, my agent and my publicist (OMG, I have a publicist!!!!))  

Now do you see the vital importance of the nails?  A fresh layer of gel and a coat of Bordeaux does wonders for the confidence, and I had no hesitation in moving a manicure up the priority list.

Of course, I am deeply excited by the prospect of such a glamorous day, but it's tempered by an undercurrent of anxiety.   Mainly in case my editor wants to read what I’ve done so far on my WIP.  I’m only on 27,198 words (which means I still have 3802 to do today to get back on target … like that’s going to happen) and they are so not ready to be shown to anyone.  This is a Shitty Second Draft, and the thought of anyone looking at it in its current state makes my toes curl in distress.  (If I ever fall under a bus, my executors have strict instructions to shred any SFDs or SSDs without even glancing at them)

And what if they want to know my PR strategy?  No, wait, that’s the publicist’s job, isn’t it?   I have a little fantasy that she’ll say: "Darling, forget about setting up another blog.  Don’t worry about Facebook or Twitter or any of that.  You don’t need to think about promotion.  The book will miraculously sell itself.  You just concentrate on your writing."

As you see, I have a rich inner fantasy life.  I suppose it's handy when you're a writer, but coming up against reality is always a blow.

Never mind, I am determined to enjoy tomorrow – after which I will have to come home and wrestle my schedule back on track.  

Friday, 22 June 2012

In search of good (romantic) sex

I’m teaching a one day Crash Course on Writing Romance on Saturday, so spent yesterday going through my notes from last year.  (Funny how no matter how often you think: that went pretty well, I’ll just do that again next year, you always end up rewriting and changing things around.  The couple of hours I’d planned on preparation stretched to the whole day in the end.)

The focus of the course is on emotional tension, which I firmly believe is the key to any successful romance.  If you don’t have that, no amount of good writing will stop your story from sagging.  But of course a romance is more than just structure too.  The problem with a crash course is that we just don’t have time to do everything.  And in my case, when it comes to writing about sex, this is probably just as well. 

I have to hold my hand up and say that I’m not good at sex scenes.  Sexual tension, yes, I can offer advice on that, but the business itself … not so much.  Which is a shame, as when it’s done well, scenes which show that the hero and heroine are sexually as well as emotionally compatible are central to many romances. 

It’s a great skill, I think, to keep the reader engaged with the characters and what they are feeling when they make love.  Too often I’m pulled out of a story by icky descriptions or euphemisms that make me squirm.  The most memorable was one I read nearly 30 years ago: “With gentle, hurting care he stormed the furled portals of her womanhood”.  Eeeuuwww.

Luckily for me I write for Harlequin Romance, a line in which we “close the bedroom door” (a pretty icky euphemism in itself!) but when it comes to teaching a course like tomorrow’s, the best I can do is to tell participants to read those authors who write about sex really well. 

It’s almost impossible to give an excerpt, as it never works out of context.  The emotional tension in the story is the foreplay that makes these scenes truly satisfying, and that takes time to build up.  The reader needs to know the characters, to have shared their growing awareness of each other and to understand why they are feeling what they do. 

Loretta Chase, Jenny Crusie Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Nora Roberts, Kelly Hunter … all these authors write brilliant sex scenes and I’ll send everyone on the course away with recommendations to read them, but I’m always looking for new authors to recommend. Who do you think does sex really well??

Oh, nearly forgot!  The winner of this week's competition is Natalija ... Natalija, do you want to email your address to and she'll put a copy of SECRETS AND SPEED DATING in the post to you - enjoy!   

Monday, 18 June 2012

Leah Ashton

* cue drum roll *  I’m absolutely delighted to welcome Leah Ashton to my blog today.

I first met Leah at the RWA Australia conference in Sydney in August 2010, so it was a wonderful coincidence to be teamed up with her for the New Voices competition that year.  Leah’s “voice” jumped out of her writing immediately, and I was thrilled – but not at all surprised – when she won. 

Now Secrets and Speed Dating is published.  I’m in the middle of reading it right now, and getting a little thrill whenever I recognise a tiny moment from the competition.  Apart from those few brief moments, Leah’s  story has changed completely, but that easy, readable voice remains - you know, that one that keeps you turning the pages even though you really should be getting up and going back to your keyboard …  

It's wonderful to be able to welcome Leah as a fellow Harlequin Romance author and to be able to follow the journey she's taken to publication.  

Today Leah’s talking about character, and she’s offering a free copy of Secrets and Speed Dating to one lucky person who comments below.  If that’s not you, make sure you order yourself a copy anyway, and put Leah Ashton on your auto-buy list!  I’ll get Leah to pick a winner at the end of the week, so don’t forget to check back to see if you’ve won.

Over to you, Leah!  

Thanks so much Jessica for inviting me to your blog! 
I think it’s crazy that it’s now almost two years since the original New Voices competition, and since I was lucky enough to have Jessica Hart as one of my mentors. Although, when I think back some of the truly dreadful brainstorming I did with Jessica via email at the time (what was I thinking?) it is a great reminder of how far I’ve come with my writing. Although, of course – I still have a long way to go!
Secrets & Speed Dating, my New Voices-winning story, is currently on the shelves in the US, and it also has come a long way since the night I hit “submit” and entered New Voices. For those unfamiliar with the New Voices competition, the format was to submit your opening chapter. From there the top 10 were selected, and had the opportunity to write Chapter Two with the assistance of an author and editor mentor. Then, the lucky final four got to write their pivotal moment, and the winner was chosen. I can tell you, when it was me, I was ecstatic!
But – when my next task was to finish my book, I soon realized that the story that won New Voices was not going to carry an entire book. Ouch!
Looking back, I think the issue was that I never truly answered the question I’d asked myself right at the beginning, when the opening sentence to Secrets & Speed Dating popped into my head:
“Just so you know, I can’t have children.”
When that line of dialogue came to me, I immediately wanted to know who had said that, and why. And that was where Sophie Morgan, my heroine, started.
The problem was, that as I wrote my New Voices entry, and the subsequent chapters, I never really answered my question. Who was Sophie Morgan?
I didn’t really have a handle on her. I didn’t know what her job was (I kept on coming up with ideas for a career that would help manipulate the plot, rather than being true to her), I didn’t really know why she went speed dating and certainly I didn’t know why she’d agree to the arrangement she eventually agrees to with my hero, Dan Halliday (although, he’s rather delicious – maybe agreeing to pretend to date him without solid motivation is not so far fetched…).
It wasn’t until I realized that Sophie was an extremely well organized person who had responded to a recent major disaster in her life by writing her own life plan – The Sophie Project – that everything began to fall into place. The woman who was just a sketch in my mind, was suddenly walking and talking and breathing!
I’ve written two books since Secrets & Speed Dating, and each one teaches me more and more about my writing and what makes a good story. I keep on making mistakes, but hopefully not the same ones too many times! But Secrets & Speed Dating certainly taught me that character is everything – without a strong character driving your story, you’ve got absolutely nothing J
So, I’d love to know – who is your favourite character? It can be from a book, or from a movie or TV show – I don’t mind!

Tell Leah your favourite character below, and you'll be in with a chance to win a copy of Secrets and Speed Dating