Tag Archives: novel

Wild Western Women – An Excerpt from The Indomitable Eve

Oct 22, 2014

It’s excerpt Wednesday! But this week, instead of bringing you a bit from my next release, Trail of Kisses, first book in the Hot on the Trail series, I thought I’d show you a little bit of another release that both came out last year and is coming out November 1st! I’m privileged to have my novella The Indomitable Eve included in a box set of historical western novellas put together by some truly brilliant ladies. Here we are!

WildWesternWomenBoxSet_New

So without further ado, here’s Eve:

 

At the front of a wide sanctuary lined with polished new pews, a cluster of children stood in varying degrees of white and yellow and gold costumes, singing their hearts out. A pair of women fussed over a few of them. They adjusted a costume here, or tried on a pair of wings there. The children sang through it, fresh faces turned up to catch the light streaming in through the windows.

Eve had seen almost every stage from California to London, but not one of them could come close to the pure beauty that stood at the front of that church.

“Very good, very good, children.” A man in a simple black suit with sandy-blond hair stepped forward, applauding the children. “Now, once you finish the carol, you will cross the front of the church—yes, just like that—and come to stand over the manger where the baby Jesus will be resting.”

“Rev. Andrews, shouldn’t the shepherds be the ones looking at the baby Jesus?” one of the little angels asked.

The entire group shuffled from one end of the stage—the church, rather—to the other, the mothers with costumes in tow.

“You’re exactly right, Annie. The shepherds will be looking at the baby Jesus, but I bet that the angels couldn’t help but steal a peek as well,” Rev. Andrews answered.

The chorus of angels giggled at his answer, smiles shining.

Eve’s heart caught in her throat. They were all so dear, so marvelous. A few were unruly, twirling or giggling as they took their places above the empty manger. A pair of boys dodged through the others, their hands in the shape of guns that they fired with all the accompanying sounds. One little girl, who couldn’t have been more than three, stared up at the high stained glass windows, her thumb in her mouth.

A bittersweet twinge seized Eve’s chest. Her throat closed up and a hint of tears stung her eyes. She lowered a hand to press to her abdomen. The scar wasn’t noticeable through the layers of her corset and skirt and the wide belt she wore, but she could feel it all the same. It cut her with a finality that went beyond the surgeon’s knife.

“Hello?”

Eve blinked to find the sandy-haired man staring at her from across the church. She dropped her hand and smiled to hide the grief she knew was painted on her face. It was foolish of her to break character in public, no matter what caused it.

“Hello,” she answered.

The sandy-haired reverend smiled.

“What are you doing?” a woman’s voice snapped behind her.

Eve turned to see a handsome older woman in a serviceable blouse and skirt about ten years out of fashion yanking the church door open behind her. She had gray hair pulled back in a bun and lines on her face that revealed that she smiled a lot. At the moment, however, she was scowling at Eve as though she were a rabble-rouser.

“I’m terribly sorry.” Eve kept her eyes bright and her chin up. “It’s so cold outside that I assumed you would want to keep the door closed.”

The old woman continued to scowl. “Well you assumed wrong.” She pulled herself to her full height and narrowed her eyes. “I don’t know you,” she went on. “I know everyone in town, even the new people.”

“I’m not from town.” Eve continued to feign ease, though it was a difficult role to play.

“I know.” The woman nodded and crossed her arms. “You’ve got an English accent.”

“It’s because I’m English,” Eve said. She tried leaning closer to the woman and sharing a conspiratorial wink the way she had with Lewis Jones and countless admirers before.

The woman crinkled her nose and leaned back. “You’re not one of the new girls Paul Sutcliffe hired to work at the saloon, are you?”

“No, no, not at all.” Eve tried a breezy laugh.

The woman’s scowl deepened. “Well you look like a whore with all that paint on your face.”

The sting of the accusation dug as deep as the emotion she had felt at the sight of the children. Eve’s act dropped.

“I most certainly am not a whore,” she said, hands on her hips. Indignant as she was, her denial still felt like a lie. “I am Lady Eve deLaurent. The Indomitable Lady Eve,” she went on, convincing herself as much as the outspoken woman.

“Well, I am Sadie McGee,” the woman fired back at her. “And I can assure you that I’m as indomitable as any woman that ever set foot in Cold Springs.”

Eve started, not sure what to make of her declaration.

“Ladies, what seems to be the trouble here?”

She was spared having to come up with an answer to Sadie McGee by the interruption of the reverend. She switched back into the role of charming lady and turned to introduce herself.

Her act evaporated. Up close, the reverend was a sight to behold. He had soft blue eyes to go with his sandy hair, strong jaw, and graceful nose. Tiny lines radiated from his eyes, giving him an air of kindness and humor. He could have played Hamlet or Algernon Moncrieff both and made the audience fall in love with him at a word.

“Just keeping the door open like you wanted, Rev. Andrews,” Sadie said as Eve scrambled to collect herself.

“But why?” Eve stammered. “It’s so cold outside.”

“It is,” Rev. Andrews replied, “but with the door closed people passing by can’t hear the children singing and be drawn in like you were.”

He ended with a smile that was as good as a wink. Butterflies danced in Eve’s gut.

 

Wild Western Women comes out November 1st, but you can preorder it now for just 99 cents! That’s 99 cents for five novellas, plus a few bonus short stories. And guess what? One of those short stories is a never-before seen story from Cold Springs, Montanta! A Hero’s Heart is a delightful little peek into the life of Cold Springs’s stationmaster, Lewis Jones, who is ready for love. You can preorder the Wild Western Women box set here.

Outlining Revisited

Sep 12, 2014

Girl-writing-brightSo I mentioned before that I’ve been attempting a whole new process of outlining stories as I write them. Yep. I, Merry Farmer, have been consciously changing myself into a plotter. Or at least giving it a try. I’ve been using Patti Larsen’s method of outlining to see if it can help me to write quickly and more efficiently. Well, I’ve finished the first draft of the first book I’ve completed using her method, and here are my thoughts.

When I started the process, I was skeptical. Way back in the day, I considered myself a pantser. I liked to discover my stories as they went along, writing each chapter like it was the next episode in a tv series that I was eagerly following. The other pantsers out there can appreciate this, I’m sure. Then I started thinking a little bit into the future with my stories. I would know what the endpoint was before I started and a few mile markers along the way. In between writing, I would spend a lot of time writing notes that I used as a sort of compass to figure out where I’d been and where I was going. Once I started writing like that, I called myself a ‘plantser’, because I was both plotting and pantsing.

So there I was, diving into Patti’s outlining methods. I liked the first couple of lessons okay, but I kept a skeptical distance. The worksheet was helpful for me to figure out those major points in the story that I had already incorporated into my plantsing methods. So far so good, but I wasn’t sold. Then came a lot of work. And yes, I balked. That voice in my brain kept insisting that these steps I was taking weren’t a natural part of my writing process, that trying something new was slow going. The thing is, a lot of what I was doing WAS part of my process as it has developed, it was just that Patti’s method organized things.

There were a few points in those difficult middle lessons when my writer brain’s lightbulb went off and I thought “Hey! This is a good idea!” But interspersed with those moments was harsh resistance and good old fashioned stubbornness. I don’t like to try new things. I was incredibly skeptical about the cards…especially how many of them I ended up with.

And then the magic happened. I went from the card state to the writing the outline itself stage, and suddenly an entire book flowed out from all of the tedious, hard work I’d done. That’s when I began to suspect that I might become a believer. I cracked my knuckles, wiggled my fingers over the keyboard, and then dove into the actual writing of the first draft.

488px-Adolf_Eberle_Der_gelunge_BriefMagic, my friends. MAGIC. Previously, it would take me about a month to six weeks to write a first draft. Some of my books involved me changing my mind about the plot halfway through, then needing to rewrite the first half of the book. Using Patti’s method, it took me less than three weeks to finish a 70k word first draft. And I suspect that I will spend less time revising and reworking it because I already smoothed out a lot of plot bumps in the planning process.

Sure, there are some things about my original outline that I ended up changing for one reason or another, but very few compared to the changes I would go through using my old method. I have a couple of inconsistencies to iron out that I hadn’t planned for in the beginning, but I have a lot of time left to do that before publication. In short, by outlining the book in its entirety before I started, I made the actual work of writing much easier.

I think I’m sold on this whole outlining thing. I still need to try the method on a few more books, maybe alter it a little to fit my brain and my working style, but my conclusion is that if your aim is to write faster so that you can get all of the ideas stuck in your head out before you turn 100, this is the way to do it. For me, this has revolutionized the way I write.

I’m not sure that this method or any method of outlining would work for everybody. Different brains work differently and all writers have different processes that work for them. One reason why I think this is such a good fit for me is because I already have a billion story ideas whirling around in my head and I need some way to get them out as quickly as possible. If you’re the type who has a few cherished stories that you want to love and nurture into the world in good time, this might not be the thing for you. I love it.

Have you tried any methods of outlining that work for you? If you’re a pantser, what is it about pantsing that appeals to you?

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Writing Lessons from the Seven Kingdoms, Part Two

Jul 02, 2014

Game-of-Thrones_George-RR-MartinLast week I talked about how Game of Thrones is teaching me so much about the craft of writing. I looked closely at how the creation of vibrant, three-dimensional characters has really helped me to get into the story and kept me reading. The reason so many people are upset when George R.R. Martin kills off a character is because they have come to like the characters so much.

Well, this week I want to talk about the other huge, important writing craft thing I’m learning from GoT. Because it isn’t just the characters that have drawn me in, it’s the stakes.

Okay. You might be asking yourself “What exactly are stakes and why are they important for a story?” I first came across the concept of stakes—or rather, had a concept that I vaguely knew about solidified into the category of stakes—while reading Donald Maass’s excellent book on writing, Writing the Breakout Novel. Maass talks in theory about what Martin executes perfectly.

Stakes are basically what risk the characters are taking as they navigate through their stories and what they stand to lose if they don’t meet their goals. The tricky thing about stakes, though, is that what you might think are the highest stakes your characters could have—namely dying or having the world blow up or some other cataclysmic event—aren’t actually the most dire nor the most emotionally satisfying risks on which to build a story. Stakes are directly tied into how much we like the characters and how intricately our emotions as readers have been woven into their fates.

Yes, the stakes are pretty dark high for a lot of the characters in GoT. Kingdoms hang in the balance. People teeter on the verge of life and death in just about all of the subplots. But you know what? It isn’t the fact that the kingdom is on the line that keeps me glued to the page. It’s things like whether Arya will get to learn to sword fight or if Jon will make peace with his place in the Stark family or how Tyrion will get himself out of the situations he finds himself in that I love. They are the personal plots of the characters as opposed to the great big machinations of the world that Martin has built. At the same time, the personal stakes for the characters are profoundly influenced by the world they inhabit.

writing_the_breakout_novelI think the key to writing a page-turner with characters that you end up thinking about long after the book is done is the immediacy of the stakes that they’re up against. And when I say that, I mean in terms of immediacy for the reader. None of us (hopefully) are in a position where our kingdom and our fate is tied to a conflict generations in the making. But we have all experienced conflict. We’ve all run into selfish people and those who should be doing a better job than they are. We all know what it feels like to want something that we’re so close to having, to be thrust into a spot where we don’t want to be, and we’ve all been young and foolish.

Human drama is far more exciting than tales of kings and power. Although, really, it’s all tied up together and kind of the same thing. It’s those personal stakes and the emotion behind them that make a great story. The same is true of Romance too, btw. I have read a lot of plots in which the hero is determined to win the heroine in spite of her resistance. The dull ones have stakes along the lines of “He must win her or he’ll be disappointed because he wants her”. The really juicy ones have stakes like “He must win her because without her he will lose his inheritance or position”. And the really, REALLY juicy ones are more like “He must win her because without her everyone who has ever called him a wastrel and a rake will be proven right and he will disappear into that dark pit forever”. There can actually be a lot of incredibly compelling stakes involved in Romance, because Romance is, in essence, about the most intimate relationships between people.

So if you find yourself writing and things just aren’t clicking, if even you are falling asleep as you read your own work, it might be because the stakes you’re working with aren’t high enough. Take a lesson from Game of Thrones and the interlacing of personal goals and the influences of the world you’ve created. Think about what your characters stand to lose if they don’t achieve their goals, and then bump that up a notch. It’s all about making the reader completely unable to put the book down.

Writing Lessons from the Seven Kingdoms, Part One

Jun 24, 2014

game of thronesOver this past weekend I did something that I’ve been meaning to do for a long, long time. I started reading A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin. And pretty much as I expected, I kind of love it. I’m going to wait to watch the series until after I finish the books (well, I’ll watch season one after I finish book one, season two after book two, etc.), so just in case you were wondering, this post has no spoilers…and hopefully no one will spoil it for me in the comments! I’m only 25% through the book.

I knew I would like this book going into it, but right from the start I noticed a curious phenomenon in my reading of it. I’ve been reading a lot of books lately. A LOT. The majority of them have been Romance, but many of them have not. Some of them have been a real chore to read. A couple have been CNFs (Could Not Finish). Then I started GoT, and suddenly I find myself mentally shuffling my schedule to find time to read, thinking about the book when I’m not reading it, and absorbing it when I am reading.

So what is it, I asked myself, about GoT that has me itching with anticipation to get reading where so many of the other books I’ve been wading through lately have seemed like homework? I knew I needed to understand this in order to make my own writing better.

The first conclusion I’ve come to about what makes this book so damned irresistible is Character. Yes, I know Martin likes to kill his characters off. You can’t be anywhere around the internet without knowing that characters in A Song of Ice and Fire have very short life expectancies. But you know, there are other books and series out there where the author kills people. What makes GoT special is that the reader really cares about the characters to begin with, and so misses them when they’re gone.

This is super important for writers like me to understand. We love our characters to pieces because they are our characters, but in order for the reader to love them too, we have to communicate all those things about them that we love…without overloading the reader with facts and information. The single biggest problem I’ve had with so many of the Romance novels I’ve read lately is that the characters are cardboard. They’ve been done a thousand times before, usually better. And yes, tropes are important for genre fiction, but there’s a difference between writing a familiar character with a certain freshness to them and propping up a cardboard cutout of a cliché.

ned starkI don’t think that the circumstances of a character’s life or the uniqueness of their back story is what gives a character three dimensions either. A lot of the characters I’ve run into in GoT so far actually have stock backgrounds for epic fantasy. We’ve got the reluctant hero, the trodden down maiden who comes into herself and her power, the conniving queen and her conniving cohort, the outcast son, the brilliant but misunderstood anti-hero, and a plethora of others. They are tropes as much as the rakish alpha hero or the oppressed but feisty heroine in Romance.

What makes me impatient to read more about the characters in GoT is not how unique the situation of the characters are, but the vibrancy of their emotional responses to their situations. The frustration that Ned feels when he ends up in the situation he ends up in has so many conditions and factors and implications for not only his life, but the lives of his entire family, that I feel myself trapped in his limited choices with him. And yes, I know what happens at the end of the book, but knowing that kind of just makes the steps he takes and the futility of everything he’s doing seem all that much more impressive. The fear and smallness that Daenerys (totally my favorite character so far) feels knowing she is a pawn in her brothers game seems so relatable, even though I’ve never been a lost princess in exile, and her journey to discover her inner strength and that sense of home within herself is kind of epic. The way these characters live and breathe apart from and embroiled in their situations is magic.

Contrast that with the stock Romance characters I’ve read too much of lately. You’d think that there would be an equal amount of emotional intensity from people whose stories revolve around emotion. Too often, though, I’ve found myself caught up in detail, in plot tricks, and in stock scenes that every novel seems to have as requirements for dramatic action. Maybe it’s because the particular Romance characters I’ve been reading about lately are trying to think their way through their situations a little too much. There’s a lot of social maneuvering in these particular novels that I’ve been reading (which, I should add, fall into historical, contemporary, suspense, and inspirational categories). It almost feels as though the authors have been moving chess piece characters through the board of the story.

It’s not just a genre thing either, I might add. My two favorite romance novels ever, The Leopard Prince, by Elizabeth Hoyt and Mine Til Midnight, by Lisa Kleypas both had the same spark that GoT has. Both of those books kept me saying “Ooo! I didn’t see that coming!”, but not so much in the events that transpired in the plot as the reactions that the characters had to them. The depth of the characters’ emotions and the realness of how they felt in reaction to their situations was second to none. And yes, it also helped that the heroines in each of those books found themselves operating outside of the bounds of social norms. Then again, just about every Romance involves the characters operating outside of normal.

So I think the important lesson here is to keep your reader on their toes by having your characters feel and react with as much emotional intensity as possible as opposed to sticking them in clever situations and having them think their way through. That’s one thing, at least. The other, which I’ll talk about in a couple of days, is the whole concept of stakes.

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Saving Grace – A Little Taste

Jun 13, 2014

MF_SavingGrace_2I’ve been horribly remiss about writing blog posts lately, but in my defense, it’s because I’ve been working SO HARD on the first two books in my Grace’s Moon  series, Saving Grace and Fallen From Grace.  So just to prove that I haven’t been goofing off, here’s a little snippet from Saving Grace

“I don’t want to waste time talking this morning,” she began. “Gil says that the days are longer here, but that doesn’t mean daylight will last forever. We need to explore the area, search for resources and find a suitable area for a more permanent settlement.”

She was distinctly aware of Sean shifting to cross his arms and stand taller behind her, as if giving authority to her words with his physical presence. She didn’t have time to be annoyed. Neither did Danny, though he looked it.

“We know the river runs along the bottom of a series of hills like the one we’re standing on right now. The river looks like it widens in that direction.”

She pointed where the river ran downstream, suddenly hoping the treasure chests contained compasses and that the moon at least had a magnetic north so they could determine direction.

“We’ll need one team to explore that way, maybe two if we break into smaller groups. On the other side of this hill there’s a valley. The smoke from the other ship came from that direction so we can assume that those survivors are waiting for us there. Past that there are higher hills and eventually mountains, but I don’t expect we’ll reach them any time soon.” A few people chuckled. “It might be nice to have another team head further inland to see what kind of resources are available there.”

“I’ll need some people to stay here and help with this too,” Stacey spoke up.

“I need to set up my equipment in the valley to take more measurements,” Gil added, searching through the contents of the crate spread across the ground as he talked, not appearing to actually notice any of them.

“There are thirty-eight of us,” Grace nodded. “Let’s form three teams of ten to explore and leave eight here to see to the camp and help Gil.”

“I’ll take a group downriver into the forest.” Beth raised a hand to volunteer. A few of her friends offered to go with her.

“Thanks, Beth.” A surge of confidence built in Grace’s gut. They were getting somewhere. “Dave, can you take a group inland?”

“Yep.”

“And I’ll cross the valley on the river side to look for the other wreck,” she continued.

“Grace, you can’t go out there,” Sean immediately contradicted her, lowering his voice as he continued with, “Kutrosky is with that group.”

Grace blinked. “So? What does Kutrosky matter now?”

Sean sighed and crossed his arms. “Don’t play that game. You know it matters.”

“It doesn’t. I need to make sure the survivors over there are okay. We need to bring them back with us. I’m going across the valley, even if I have to go alone.”

“I’m not letting you wander off by yourself again.” Carrie stepped up almost before she had finished.

“Neither am I.” Sean was just as fast to announce his intentions.

“Good.” Grace turned and met Danny’s eyes. He nodded. “Perfect. Make sure you all take water and ration packs with you,” she instructed the swiftly forming groups. “Designate someone to record anything useful that you see, edible plants, wildlife, possible shelters. And take some of the guns with you but do not use them!” She raised her voice to emphasize the order over the din of eager explorers.

When her comment garnered more than a few frowns she said, “There are other people out there. We can’t afford any more accidents like yesterday. No one can get hurt, but more importantly, no one can die. We need every last one of us if we’re going to form a viable long-term civilization, okay? Be careful and try to be back here by sunset.”

Instructions over, she turned to Danny as he closed the distance between them. “Think you’re going to keep me out of trouble?”

His expression softened. “Since when have I ever successfully kept you out of trouble?”

“Touché.” He winked.

Five minutes alone with Danny to sort things out? An hour would be better. Days. Maybe a lifetime.

“Grace.” Stacey pulled her attention before she could leave. Grace turned to the crates where Stacey was still fishing for items. “You might be able to use some of this.”

“What have you got?”

She and Danny walked to the side of the crate with Carrie and Sean following.

“It looks like there are backpacks in here, bigger and better than those tissue paper things on the pods.” She pulled one out and handed it to her. “And more canteens, but we already have those.”

“What on earth is that?” She nodded at a large curved metal disc like a bowl at the bottom of the crate.

“It’s a brazier,” Danny told her as he leaned over her shoulder to look in the crate. “And those look like pots.”

A chill went down Grace’s spine. “I guess we’ll be able to cook dinner tonight then.”

She stood, backing into Danny’s chest. His arms closed around her to steady her and she was grateful for the moment of reassurance.

“This isn’t right,” she murmured.

“Are you complaining?” he whispered back.

She shook her head, aware of both Sean and Carrie watching them with different versions of the same hostile frown. She couldn’t hide her thoughts from them.
“I was holding out hope that the explosion on the transport ship was an accident.” She slung the backpack Stacey hastily packed for her over one shoulder and started up the hillside. “This doesn’t look like an accident.”

Saving Grace will be released on July 15th wherever eBooks are sold and in paperback around that same time too.  Want to be notified when it comes out?   Sign up for my newsletter! And thank you!