Thursday, July 23, 2009

American Heroes... and then some

I posted this on the American and Vintage Rose shared blog the other day, but it bears repeating so I thought I'd post it here, as well.

Last night’s American Rose line celebration chat proved, once again, that while our numbers in AR are small, our hearts are mighty! Thank you to all the editors and authors who came out to celebrate with us.

AR editor Allison Byers took great delight in finally giving us the scoop on what she’s been teasing us about all month long—our American Heroes series. For those of you who missed it, here’s a recap:

American and Vintage Rose* are combining for a series entitled "American Heroes." The hero/heroine can be a person in the military or one can be an everyday person who inspires someone, changes his/her world for the better, or displays heroic qualities that a romance reader would embrace. Think of Rosie the Riveter, suffragettes, a southern belle who saved her home, northern ladies who had Antietam at their doorstep, nurses and doctor who fought under enemy fire, firefighters during the Chicago fire. There are so many historical figures in our lifetime, and we on the American Line want to capture that spirit and share it with our readers.

The stories can be 30,000 to 100,000 words. The time frame is anything from 1492 to 1992 (the end of the first Gulf War). Vintage stories can be set on foreign soil, but the hero/heroine must be an American. American Rose stories must be set on American soil.

What I found most interesting was when we began to discuss the many kinds of heroes there are out there. I was amazed at the ideas our authors threw out there. Canadian Mounties? Absolutely. A pilot on 9/11? You betcha. Gulf War heroes? Yep.

The bottom line, authors, is these are YOUR lines and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my three plus years at the helm of the historical department, it’s that no matter what direction I think a line may be heading... the authors usually have a different idea entirely! Which is why we are always open to suggestion.

In the next few weeks I will be working hand in hand with the VR and AR editing teams to revise the guidelines for both Vintage and American Rose, and I welcome your input. I am continually amazed by the enthusiasm and excitement you show for these lines, and if there’s a direction you’d like to see these lines take that they haven’t already, or have a question about whether we do/do not accept certain settings, feel free to email and tell me.

After all, the authors are in charge of things around here, I’m just along for the ride. *G*

Nicole D’Arienzo
Managing Editor, Historical Division

*to clarify… Vintage Rose accepts both American and non-American settings post 1900. The American Rose line accepts settings from 1492 through the first decade of the 20th century but only deals with American settings. English Tea Rose accepts all non-American settings up to 1900 and Cactus Rose focuses on historicals set in the Old West.

Monday, July 13, 2009


When I write revision letters, I often tell my authors that I expect to see the three Rs in scenes. The three Rs encompass building character, which, as many of you know is my editorial Holy Grail.

When you plot a scene, you enrich the character’s life, bring it down, or plant them in a situation where the three Rs should happen, not only to fill the chapter, build word count and build character, but allow the reader to identify and create a bond with the hero or heroine.

So, in writing the three Rs, there are a few suggestions.

REACT: Most chapters start with a scenario of some type. The heroine is on a crashing plane, a raft in the ocean, her mother’s kitchen or in traffic dropping her child off at daycare. There are endless scenarios you can use, these are just a few.

At this point, the reader knows where the heroine happens to be. How does the heroine react to being there? Is she screaming and hanging on for dear life? Has she just yanked her hand out of the water before a shark cruises by? Did her Mom just make fluffy pancakes and bacon and the heroine is salivating? Or did a man in a sports car just cut her off in traffic? What did our heroine feel at this very point in time? Whatever she feels is a reaction. Build character here. Wring those feelings right out of our hapless heroine. Internal dialog and observations are good things! Conversation with another nearby can also build character.

RESPOND: Now that the plane has crashed, there’s a ship on the horizon, Mom has provided her with the pancakes and the man in the sports car screeches to a stop, jumps out and waves a bloody hand – our heroine has to respond. Her earlier thoughts are forgotten. Now she has to look for a way to survive in the jungle with pieces of plane all around, flag down the ship, decide to only eat half of Mom’s pancakes because she’s on a diet, and scrabble around under the driver’s seat to find that emergency fist aid kit she always keeps in the car. (Editorial intrusion – what do you mean you don’t keep a first aid kit in the car? Do so immediately. The editor has spoken!). Now she is poised to take action. Tools have been found, her former internal dialog is cut off and another crisis is staring her right in the face. She has to respond.

At this point, our heroine is coming to the aid of something or someone. She hasn’t actually done anything, but she is prepared or preparing to do so. Fill that page with her preparations. Dialog with the dog that survived the plane crash too, the kid who is in the raft with her, Mom’s discussion on her being too skinny, or the policeman running car to car looking for a first aid kit (see, I told you that a first aid kit is a necessary item in your car!), are excellent for showing the reader our heroine’s character. They get the sense that she will help, discuss, and even have a courageous sense of humor despite her surroundings or the people around her. These are heroine traits, and secretly our readers want to believe that they would respond exactly as our heroine is doing. Which leads us to Resolution.

RESOLUTION: The scene is now coming to a close. The heroine fashions a glider out of half a wing and parasails out of the jungle, thereby saving herself. Or she whips off her petticoats and flags down the ship. Mom realizes our heroine does need to drop a few pounds and takes back ½ pancake to eat herself. The heroine bandages the driver’s bloody hand, and he kisses her right there in traffic to the cheers of the stranded motorists. Our heroine had done something. She has taken action and resolved the plot issue that was introduced at the beginning of the scene. The responses portrayed and the preparations she took filled the chapter with character-building internal thoughts, open dialog and actions.

In closing this scene you can build character yet again by giving our heroine a sense of satisfaction at a job completed, a strength of purpose that uplifts her ego, and the knowledge that her actions, and hers alone, resolved the entire situation. If she did have help she needs to acknowledge it openly and not take all the credit. Giving credit where credit is due is also heroic.

So, in building character and plotting scenes remember the 3 Rs – React, Respond, Resolution.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Convenience Of Everything...

Lately, I’ve been running across manuscripts wherein our illustrious heroine is placed so conveniently that she literally does nothing to further her own life or the storyline at all.

What am I talking about?

Let us set aside the passive heroine for the moment and concentrate on plot here. For those of you who hear me constantly preach about characterization, just hold on, I’m getting to it…or the lack thereof.

Plot is a tool to further the story. It is the action, the backdrop and the surroundings that our hero and heroine wade through as they discover their own feelings for each other.

I once determined that a good, 20 page chapter required four different scenes to act as a foil for the characters. These scenes had to comprise some form of action so our characters could act, react, compare notes, and resolve. So, the plot of a story would be something like…

The heroine’s diamonds are lost.

The characters look high and low aboard the ship, bumping into each other as they pat down the stern sheets, empty out lockers and check the beds in steerage.

The diamonds are found when a passenger bites down on his coq au vin and breaks a tooth.

It is discovered that the heroine had visited the deck where the seagulls landed on the railing for the scraps the cook threw out and one of them snatched the diamonds out of heroine’s handbag which she accidentally left on a deck chair…and the cook had run out of chicken for his dish, so he got the next best thing…

Basically, the plot above tells the actual story. There’s not one bit of characterization except in the distant sense – an idiotic heroine who brings her handbag up deck, and a cook who doesn’t want to disappoint the passengers about the meal.

The heroine, except mentioned in the first sentence, is unnecessary for the story.

Now, let us return to my first sentence. In a plot rich environment, the heroine is placed so that many things can be happening around or to her, but she comes through unscathed, not only in body, but without a thought of the uniqueness of the situation.

1. Our heroine is thumbing rides and although everyone else would be at the mercy of an axe murderer, our heroine remains completely safe and she even gets money from the trucker who picked her up.

2. Our heroine, without any knowledge at all, gets an executive position without any credentials and then does an outstanding job, better than all the college grads around her.

3.Our heroine escapes death in an avalanche because she wanted to explore a pretty little shanty in the woods. A shanty that has food, water and a heat source, so she could survive for two weeks until rescued.

Each of these plots are active. But our heroine is not. When too many outstanding coincidences such as the three above appear in one manuscript, it is a lack of control over characterization. The heroine didn’t actively participate in any of the above, they just “happened” to her. Heroines are supposed to be proactive in their lives. They also need to have emotions and feelings clearly defined when these extraordinary things are going on.

To conveniently place people on a stage to “act out” a role, without delving into what they’re thinking and feeling is simply a plot that doesn’t even need a heroine or hero.

Since romance needs both, The Convenience Of Everything won’t work.