Descriptions in WIP Wednesday

One of my beta readers on my contemporary novella pointed out that I described two secondary characters, but not the hero and heroine. Which was true. In fact, sometimes I barely describe my characters at all, though I almost always work from photographs and paintings so that I can see the person in my mind’s eye as I watch them act the dramas I document.

How about you? Do you see your characters? Do you describe them, and if so, is it eye of God or in another character’s viewpoint or the old ‘in a mirror’ trick?

This week, please share a description of someone in your work in progress. My excerpt describes, Ottilie, the heroine of Forged in Fire, which will appear in the box set for the Bluestocking Belles. We announce the title and reveal the cover this coming weekend.

She wasn’t as meek as she pretended. He’d seen the steel in her, the fire in those pretty hazel eyes.

The word ‘pretty’ put a check in his stride, but it was true. She had lovely eyes. Not a pretty face, precisely. Her cheeks were too thin, her jaw too square, her nose too straight for merely ‘pretty’. But in her own way, she was magnificent. She was not as comfortably curved or as young as the females he used to chase when he was a wild youth, the sort he always thought he preferred. Not as gaudy as them, with their bright dresses and their brighter face paint. But considerably less drab than he had thought at first sight. She was a little brown hen that showed to disadvantage beside the showier feathers of the parrot, but whose feathers were a subtle symphony of shades and patterns. Besides, parrots, in his experience, were selfish, demanding creatures.

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Chapter hooks on WIP Wednesday

McRae’s hotel after the eruption my hero and heroine are hiding from in the following scene.

I’ve evolved the tactic of not putting in chapter breaks in first draft. I just tell the story, and then I use the initial edit to reshape it, putting in breaks, baiting hooks at the end of chapters, and setting hooks at the beginning of the next.

I’ve spent a couple of hours today doing just that with a novella, so I thought chapter hooks might be quite fun. Please give me an excerpt from the start or end of a chapter, in which you intrigue your readers and pull them in. Mine is from Forged in Fire, my story for the Belle’s 2017 box set.

And the uncle and aunt abandoned her, ruined by their daughter’s lies and a conscienceless scoundrel, bereaved, poverty stricken. “I have been content, on the whole.” Tad was moved beyond words, her gracious acceptance casting sharp relief on his anger at the players in his own tragedy. And his break with his family had given him freedom, not enslavement to the whims of a cantankerous widow.

He rubbed his cheek gently on the soft hair that tickled his chin. She was wrong about her appeal. She might not have the kind of spectacular beauty that attracted fawning courtiers, but she was pretty. If she was his, he would dress her in colours that better became her. Green, perhaps, to bring out the green flecks in her eyes.

But she could not be his. So foolish to even think of it, when he was leaving New Zealand, heading back to the very Society that had wronged her fifteen years ago. He had no right to be holding her tenderly, caressing her, thinking about kissing her and more. He was no wild boy to act on this inconvenient attraction, this protective tenderness. But he didn’t let her go.

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Family occasions on WIP Wednesday

I like stories where you get the sense you’ve moved into the middle of an existing life. All the ordinary things might be carrying on, or some big crisis might have shifted our hero and heroine out of their usual preoccupations, but somewhere in the background is normal.

Part of normal life are the things we do regularly with our friends and family. Sunday dinner. Tuesday chess night. Thanksgiving. We do something once, enjoy it, do it again, and before we quite mean it, it has become a habit, or even a tradition.

And such interactions enrich fiction. Four old school friends always meet in London on the first day of March. Mama kisses her children, and later her grandchildren, and always says ‘Love you forever’.  Two cousins, separated by years and distance, go to their old fishing hole to become reacquainted. The echoes through time add depth.

In this week’s WIP Wednesday, pick any type of repeated interaction you like: a joke, an activity, an event, a ceremony, a habit. Post it in the comments, as usual, and I’ll post mine below.

It’s from my new contemporary novella for Author’s on Main Street, A Family for Christmas. My heroine hasn’t seen her husband since their wedding day, eight and a half months ago.  She has been out with her in-laws, cutting and bringing home a Christmas tree from the farm’s hilltop.

After a cup of tea back at the house, they wrestled the Christmas tree into a bucket of damp sand, sitting ready in the corner of the big sitting room. Cheryl shifted the bucket a half circle and then back a quarter until Lee and Old Trev agreed that the young pine looked even on all sides. It was full and bushy, with branches arching upwards and one grand leader almost scraping the plaster ceiling ten foot above the floor.

“You young ones finish it off,” Old Trev commanded. “I’m going to take a bit of a sit down.”

He wandered off to the screened end of the verandah, where a comfortable recliner chair waited. Not to sleep, he would have told them, but to check out the back of his eyelids, as he did every afternoon.

Cheryl fetched a short wooden stepladder, and Lee carried over the first of the boxes of decorations. They all had stories, Cheryl told her, and each member of the family added at least one new one a year. Old Trev whittled his. He carved one a year, delicate wooden snowflakes all in different woods, oiled and waxed till they shone.

Lee and Cheryl had purchased one each in Palmy at Lee’s most recent antenatal scan. Cheryl’s was a Santa on water skis, and Lee found a medallion of a Madonna and Child. She had bought the matching St Joseph to put up for Trevor, so he’d have a part of the tradition even if he wasn’t home in time, then hidden it for fear Cheryl would think Lee was putting herself, Trevor, and the baby into the centre of the Christmas story.

They were certainly no Holy Family, though Lee had been roped into the pageant planned for the Christmas Fair. Just a small part; being led across the stage on a donkey. With Cheryl’s acceptance, the whole community had embraced her as one of their own. Not like when she first arrived.

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First impressions on WIP Wednesday

I’m just finishing the short story to go out with my next newsletter, so I thought I’d choose something from that for my WIP Wednesday.

Give me an excerpt that tells me what one of your characters thought about another the first time they met.

My story is called A Gentleman Honours His Debts, and starts when the Earl of Bridgethorne takes passage on the ship where his bride has been hiding since she ran away a week after their marriage. This excerpt is a bit of backstory.

Leticia Fanshaw was one of three wallflowers Dickon danced with that first evening at the Bellowes house party. He’d almost passed her by; her discomfort when they were introduced rousing his pity but dousing any potential interest. This year, unlike the previous five, he had a stronger motive than the pleasures of the dance for his exercises on the dance floor. This year, he was in the market for a bride.

Not that he intended for any of Society’s matchmakers to know that, and fortunately his reputation helped keep his new motives secret. All the haut ton knew the Earl of Bridgethorne enjoyed dancing, and his skill made even the most awkward of partners look graceful. And he was kind, dancing with at least three of four of the least popular maidens at every event, as well as matrons, widows, and the more popular debutantes. Never more than one dance with each partner at any one event, a restriction that limited speculation about his marital intentions, and made courtship slightly harder now those intentions had changed.

Still, five years of conversation while standing out in line dances had given Dickon some definite views about the kind of bride he wanted. Not too proud, or too absorbed in her own beauty, which disqualified most of those to whom his fellows were drawn. Not foolish or inane or passionately fixated on an interest he did not share. He would have to converse with his wife, at least occasionally. Indeed, he hoped that, if he chose well, they might become friends. And, while he did not require physical perfection, he would, of course, have to be sufficiently attracted to the lady to do his duty by his title and estate, since an heir was the whole purpose of the exercise.

Five years of conversation had convinced him that the gem he sought was probably hidden among the wallflowers. Not an antidote, or a shy nervous creature afraid of men. But a woman whose intelligence and character had frightened off the fools who fell in love with the transitory sparkle of Society’s annual stars.

So when Miss Fanshaw blushed, stammered, and dropped her fan, he almost made his bow and his excuses, touching his hostess on her arm in the prearranged signal to present him to the next group. But was that fear in the look the young lady shot sideways to the aunt and uncle who were sponsoring her? And surely he imagined the menace in her uncle’s responding glare?

“If you would excuse us, Lord Bridgethorne and I…”

Dickon ruthlessly interrupted Lady Bellowes. How she would roast him later! “May I have the honour of a dance, Miss Fanshaw.”

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Hidden attraction on WIP Wednesday

Most of my stories have a romance in them. Even those that don’t are likely to have some sexual tension. I make no apology for that. For one thing, the kind of love I celebrate in my books is as real as it gets. It’s not for nothing that the Bible uses the language of romantic and physical love to describe the way God loves creation. When two people fall in love and become intimate, they expose deeper layers of themselves more quickly than in any other situation that doesn’t involve near and present risk of death.

And then they have deal with what the most frightening or embarrassing things they’ve exposed, by accepting, by changing or by drawing back. I find it fascinating.

Of course, other relationships can be intense and intimate too. The love between a parent and child, between siblings or long associates, between friends who are kindred spirits: these are all worth exploring. But add the element of physical intimacy, and you both complicate things and provide a mechanism (all those hormones) for becoming close really quickly.

Today, on WIP Wednesday, I want to see excerpts from your work-in-progress where one of your protagonists does something, says something, or thinks something to show that they are physically attracted to the other but doesn’t feel they can act on it. Please keep it clean. This blog doesn’t have an adults-only filter.

My excerpt is from The Lost Treasure of Lorne, which will appear in Lost in the Tale. (Due for release 6 September)

His Grace the Duke of Kendal was digging in the moat again. The unusually dry summer had presented an opportunity he could not resist. With the moat almost empty, even the deepest pools came barely to the hem of his kilt, which, apart from the boots that were out of sight under the murky water, was all he wore.

At not quite forty years of age, the duke was still a fine figure of a man, broad of shoulder, slim of waist, and well-muscled. Even Caitlin Morgan, that stern moralist his housekeeper, paused at the windows of the long gallery to admire the view before she scolded the maids who were doing the same and sent them scurrying back to their tasks. Caitlin stopped for one more glance before resolutely turning away and closing herself in the housekeeper’s pantry with her accounts.

The columns of figures were unlikely to drive the sight of a half-naked duke from her mind, but one could try.

Normally, she would do her accounts at night, after the servants—the other servants—had departed for the village. No one but the duke and Caitlin herself would remain in Castle Lorne after dusk. And His Grace’s son, John Normington, when he was home from university. Even the duke’s valet and butler retreated at nightfall, though only as far as a cottage in the grounds.

The ghosts were a bother, with their moaning and their chatter, but Caitlin paid them no mind. She had, after all, spent more than a decade in charge of a rambunctious boy in a nursery, and knew that a little noise never hurt anyone. Besides, for some reason, the ghosts listened to her, and would be quiet if she insisted.

And if she were as much a coward as the rest of them, who would fetch John his supper or keep His Grace company when the male ghosts drove him out of his bedchamber with their carousing?

Not that the duke knew she kept him company. She sat on the secret staircase on one side of the panel that opened into the library while on the other he read a book next to the fire. She frowned down any ghost that thought to disturb him, and in time he would drift off to sleep.

After that one glorious night seven years ago, she did not dare be alone with him. She trusted Kendal, of course. It was herself she did not trust.

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Explanations in WIP Wednesday

What is a romance without misunderstandings? They met, fell in love, courted, married and lived happily until they died in old age, surrounded by their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren? It makes for a highly desirable life, but lacks interest as a story.

And if we have misunderstandings we have to have explanations, or the story would come to an early end.

So this week, I’m inviting you to post excerpts where one character explains a misunderstanding to another. Mine is from The Lost Wife, which is a short story in my forthcoming collection, Lost in the Tale.

“I am Imanol Mendina de la Vega. Welcome to my humble residence, and that of my hermana.”

Hermana. He had said something similar earlier. Long ago, David had learnt a little Spanish to please Teri’s Mama, stranded as she was as a widowed Spanish lady in the very English household of her brother-in-law. But he did not know that word.

He shifted his head on the pillow, the closest he could come to a bow. “David Markinson, Captain of His Majesty’s Royal Marines.”

Something fierce suddenly surfaced in Imanol’s dark intent eyes. “Markinson? Is that a common name in England?”

“Not particularly. It is more common in Scotland. My family are border people.”

“Border? Ah. Between two kingdoms. And what is the name of this border town you come from, Captain Markinson?”

“Blackwood,” David said. Once he had thought to spend all his days there; to take his articles with his employer, Mr Hemsworth, to raise a family of children with Teri and grow old in a cottage with roses around the door. After his dreams turned to dust, he had enlisted with the marines, and his mother’s death two years ago severed his last links to the place.

Imanol was scowling, his heavy brows nearly meeting above the bridge of his nose, but his voice, courteous and calm, showed none of the emotion written on his face. “And have you a wife back there in Blackwood, captain? Or a girl who loves you, perhaps?”

“No.” Not that it was any of this man’s business. “Not anymore. I have no-one.” I have a wife somewhere, his heart protested. Not back there in Blackwood, he answered his own objection.

Imanol opened his mouth to say something more, then turned to the door and fell silent.

David shifted his head on the pillow, but couldn’t turn it enough to see who stood there; who was asking a peremptory question in Spanish that was too fast for him to follow. A woman’s voice, and Imanol did not like what she said, for his answer was sharp. They argued for a few minutes more, and David tried still harder to see the woman. He could swear he knew the voice.

The altercation ended with Imanol saying to David, “Be careful, English. She says I must not gut you like a fish, but she does not rule here.” Another sentence or two in Spanish, and he left. David lay back, waiting, and sure enough the woman came into the room where he could see her. It was her. Older. In the clothes of a village woman rather than those of an English lady. But it was Teri. Maria Teresa Markinson, his runaway wife.

While he gaped, lost for words, she rested the back of her hand on his forehead, and picked up his wrist to feel for his pulse. “How is the head?” she asked. “Do you feel any pull from the stitches?”

David grabbed the hand before she could remove it. “Teri.” He struggled to order his thoughts, but they slithered out his grasp and he could only cling to her hand as if she anchored him to reality instead of driving him out of his mind.

“Take your hand off her.” Imanol’s cold voice gave David words.

“She is my wife!” he declared at the same moment that Teri said, “Go away, Imanol.”

“Your abandoned wife,” Imanol sneered.

“No! Is that what you thought, Teri? No. I did not leave you. Not by my choice.”

 

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First lines on WIP Wednesday

Just for fun, let’s post the first paragraph of several chapters from our current work-in-progress. You pick the number of excerpts and which chapters. Mine are from The Realm of Silence, book 3 in The Golden Redepennings.

Chapter Two:

Four years since he had last crossed verbal swords with Susan Cunningham, and she looked no older. Did the infernal woman have the secret of an elixir of youth? She had been widowed long enough to be out of her blacks, and back into the blues she favoured: some concoction that was probably the height of fashion and that both hid and enhanced her not insubstantial charms.

Chapter Four:

The goddess fought him every inch of the way right through dinner, and went up to her room still determined to do without his support. Gil’s blood ran cold at the thought of her facing the perils of the road with none but her elderly groom to defend her safety and her honour. Especially a groom who would take bribes, as the man Lyons did when Gil found his room above the stables. Gil paid the old man to warn him when the goddess ordered her carriage, and set his own man to watching the groom.

Chapter Seven:

180 miles north, in Newcastle
“No dawdling,” Mam’selle Cornilac commanded, setting a rapid pace through the busy market. For the first time on their travels, they had stopped for the day in the mid afternoon, and Mam’selle had taken full advantage of several used-clothing vendors, determined to reclothe her two unwelcome companions.

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Scandal on WIP Wednesday

After: William Hogarth

Scandal, or the threat of it, is a useful tool in historical romance—and in many other types of fiction. Indeed, much of history revolves around what happens when people try to avoid scandal, or when a scandal breaks.

Today, I’m looking for an excerpt to do with scandal: past, present, possible, imagined, or actual.

Mine is from A Midwinter’s Tale, my box set story for the Speakeasy Scribes. It’s the scandal that wasn’t, because they managed to keep their secret.

Tee would have loved to have sisters, or at least known the ones her mother told Uncle Will about. Two older sisters, and a brother who was her twin, and who escaped with her mother. If the escape was real, and not just a kind story Uncle Will made up to comfort a grieving toddler.

After all, it could not be true. Her mother could not have walked out of the twentieth century into a tavern in nineteenth century Boston and then skipped two hundred years to frozen Jogenheim. That was Uncle Will’s story—his pregnant great grandmother had made a double time jump, first to the past and then to her future, where she gave birth to twins. Tee and her brother.

When the PED tried to scoop her up to add to the breeding pool, Tee’s mother and brother stepped through the tavern door into history, leaving Tee to be raised by Will, who was her great nephew and also sixty years older than her.

Tee snorted. More likely, her mother escaped the breeding pool long enough to have Tee, was then locked up, and would arrive once more on their doorstep when her breeding days were over. Breeders who coupled with unlicensed males or hid their babies lost their freedom of movement. Everyone knew that.

If they caught Tee, they would lock her up, too.

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Transport on WIP Wednesday

Boat, carriage, horse, train, rocketship or shanks pony, our characters need to get around. In today’s WIP Wednesday, I’d love to see your excerpts about travel. Mine is from Forged in Fire, my Bluestocking Belles’ box set story for 2017. My characters are tourists in New Zealand’s Rotorua in 1886.

Lottie was pleased to be on the road again. The morning had been a trial with Myrtle determined to exact vengeance for Lottie’s avoidance of her trap. She might calm down a bit now they were once more with the rest of the party, since Mr. Farthingale was avoiding Lottie’s gaze and speaking to her as seldom as politeness allowed, though a gleam in Mr. Farthingale’s eye suggested she should be careful not to let him catch her alone.

The Pritchard family normally took one carriage, while Mr. Farthingale joined Myrtle’s party in the other. How could Lottie avoid the horrid man? Fortunately, her interests and Myrtle’s aligned, and when Myrtle suggested that the two Misses Pritchard might like to join her carriage to discuss London fashions ‘to while away another boring bush trip’, Lottie eagerly seconded her, but lowered her lids to veil her eyes when Mr. Berry climbed up to take the seat opposite her. If Myrtle caught a hint of how Mr. Berry affected her, Lottie would never hear the end of it.

The road wound around the shores of the lake, and then struck up into the hills. They would spend two nights at Te Wairoa, since the trip to the famed terraces of Rotomohana would consume the day in between.

Mr. Berry was distant today, too, but he smiled when he caught her looking at him, so she acquitted him of prejudice and just wondered what had him out of sorts. No. Sad. Something had happened to distress him, though he hid it well.

She left him to his brooding and Myrtle and the young ladies to their discussion, all but pressing her nose to the window. Boring? By no means. Lottie could not see enough of the ever-changing textures and the unending variety of greens in the passing scenery.

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Relatives on WIP Wednesday

This week’s post is about relatives. All of our protagonists have them, even the orphans. And, dead and alive, they contribute to our hero’s and heroine’s situation, if only by helping to form their character.

As always, I invite you to put an excerpt in the comments where a relative of your hero or heroine is mentioned or appears. Mine is from Forged in Fire, my story for the Bluestocking Belles 2017 boxed set.

Bother. Botheration. Not for the first time since Cousin Myrtle had offered her a refuge from her disgrace, Lottie wished she had dared a few of the choice epithets she’d heard her brother use. He always apologised for offending her delicate sensibilities, and at the time, she had been shocked, as her upbringing demanded. But oh how she wished he was still alive to shock her again.

She tucked her guilt and her grief back where they belonged, deep below the surface. This evening would be trial enough. Mr Berry was waiting for an answer, his eyes fixed on hers.

“Thank you, but I suspect that will just make things worse. Mr Berry, I should warn you that my cousin is very likely at this moment impugning your reputation to the other guests. I am very sorry. I should not have come, or at least, I should have asked for a maid to accompany me.”

The brows dived inwards as he frowned. He really was remarkably good looking; the contrast between his workman’s muscular build and sun-darkened skin, and his gentleman’s speech and good manners, only adding to his appeal. “My reputation? And yours? But we have not been alone, Miss Thompson.” He waved to the group of natives who were chatting just outside the door, Mr Berry’s partner, Mr Te Paora, among them. A magnificent young woman with a tattooed chin waved back.

“I did not realise that the old harridan was your cousin,” Mr Berry continued. “My commiserations. Why would she spread malicious gossip about her own relative?”

To keep Lottie under her thumb, of course. Myrtle had been a bully from the first, but when Lottie recovered enough from her grief to rebel, she found herself trapped. Without money of her own, she needed a paid position or a husband, and in the circumstances of her disgrace, Myrtle had the perfect weapon to keep her from either. It was old news now, more than a decade gone. But Myrtle had added to it over the years with supposition and outright lies. And circumstances like this, which were not what they seemed.

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