I received a lot of compliments on the cover of His Forgotten Fiancée (though the credit, of course, should go to the Harlequin Art Department). I think it’s mostly the fact that the cover features a tall, handsome man and a kitten. Something about that combination is irresistible.
For example, look at the Japanese movie trailer below. A tall, handsome Samurai, a ruthless warrior, who has one assignment that he cannot fulfill: to assassinate a cat. Instead, he adopts the animal.
I am reminded of the “story” that KD James gave out about how she came to be the human caretaker of a small white cat. Is that story true or was it just a cover for a darker truth? I mean, the name she gave the beastie was “The White Ninja.” Pretty suspicious coincidence, methinks.
It’s on a list on goodreads. All right, it’s at the bottom of the list, but that’s not the point. It’s there. People can see it. There are so many books out there, anything that helps a story become more visible to readers is awesome.
After much discussion, I have persuaded NotMyCat to come inside to eat, since leaving food outside meant also feeding every other cat in the neighborhood, as well as NotMyWasp and NotMyRaccoon and, on one memorable occasion, NotMySkunk. She doesn’t linger, just comes in to eat and then wants to be let outside again immediately. I’d thought it was safe enough to leave a bowl of cat food on the floor in the kitchen. Until yesterday.
Last winter, mice had found a way to get into the laundry room. Ack! I made sure the dryer vent was closed and for that matter closed the laundry room door so they couldn’t get into the house. I hadn’t seen or heard any sign of them in months, so I had forgotten all about it.
The other afternoon, I came into the laundry room and saw something dark moving along the baseboard. It could have been a fast-moving shadow from the trees outside the window. It was windy; the boughs were going up and down. But I was suspicious.
I lured NotMyCat indoors with food bribes. Then I picked her up and carried her to the laundry room. I talked at great length about her hunting prowess and how much I appreciated what a mighty huntress she was and by the way if she felt like doing some hunting I wouldn’t mind in the least.
When I set her down, she showed no interest in her surroundings. She merely trotted to the door and asked to be let out.
Ten minute later, I heard a muffled meowing at the sliding glass door. Her voice was muffled because she was holding a bird in her mouth. She was standing there expecting praise.
Luckily, the cat’s idea of bird hunting is catch-and-release. I slipped outside before I started to praise her extravagantly, which gave the bird the opportunity to fly away. But I have learned to be much more specific when I ask NotMyCat to do me a favor.
Cat training is not for the faint of heart. In His Forgotten Fiancée the heroine, Liza, is fiercely determined to keep mice from eating all the grain. The hero, Matthew, gets her a kitten and tries to teach the little one to hunt mice. It’s uphill work:
Liza left Pa sharpening the scythe and went to find Matthew. He wasn’t washing up down by the creek or anywhere in sight. She heard the rumble of his deep voice coming from the barn. Curious, she went to investigate.
“Still hungry, even after all that milk? I really do not understand how you expect to get anywhere if you just crouch by that empty dish and cry. Go out there and find some mice! No, don’t look at me with those sad eyes. I am impervious to such maudlin sentiment.” A heavy sigh from inside the barn. “Here, look, I’ll show you. It’s simple. Pretend my hand is a mouse. You’re hungry. I’m right here. What do you do? You pounce. Yes! Just like that. Let your instinct guide you. No, my hand is not, in actual fact, edible.” Another sigh. “Oh, all right. I seem to have saved a bit of salmon from breakfast this morning. I will share it with you.”
Slowly, she peeked in around the door. Matthew was crouched down, lecturing the kitten as seriously as if it were an entire jury. “This is not setting a precedent, do you understand? You need to learn how to hunt.”
I’ve seen a preliminary draft of the cover for His Forgotten Fiancée! I’m so excited. I can’t share it here, since it’s not the final version, but I’m still jumping up and down inside. It made the book seem so much more real.
They did a photoshoot with models. Real people, posing as characters from a story I made up. Bizarre.
And not just people. One of the secondary characters in the story (Elijah) is a kitten, so I’d asked if they could put him on the cover. For some reason, I had thought they’d just photoshop a cat onto the background, but no. The Harlequin team went and got a cat model for the photoshoot, bless them.
Even more impressive, the kitten on the cover looks exactly like the kitten I had originally based Elijah on. Black and white and adorable.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Vicki Essex wrote a blog post about her experience as a Harlequin cover model. They brought a horse into the studio for that photoshoot. Up an elevator.
I learned something else today. I’d listened to other authors gush about their beautiful covers, but I never understood why they were so proud. It’s analogous to bringing home a new baby. To someone else, a baby looks nice enough, but to its proud parents, it’s the most beautiful baby ever. I have no doubt that other people could find things that might need improvement. But I can’t see any.
I will share it later, when the finished version becomes available. For now you’ll just have to take my word for it. It’s the most beautiful cover ever. At least, it is to me. 🙂
I am taking a few days off from revisions. I needed to walk away from the manuscript so that I could see it clearly again. I am almost at the stage where I think I’m ready to send the revisions back to my editor, but I want to go through the ms. one more time to make sure that the changes I’ve introduced flow smoothly with the rest of the story.
As a change of pace, I’ve gone back to a story that I was developing when I got The Call. There are still some secrets that my characters are hiding from me.
In the first draft, I discover the characters. In the second draft, I refine the scenes to make the story clearer. That approach doesn’t work for everyone, but I like finding out about the characters as I write the story. That makes it fun.
To hook the reader, you need to make it clear what the characters want — not just what their goal is, but what happens if they don’t achieve the goal. The reader wants to root for the protagonist, but they need to know what they’re rooting for. What is at stake for the character? What are the consequences if they fail? That’s what I’m trying to discover.
In a romance novel, the characters have to change before they can accept the love of their life. At the beginning of the story, the character does not want to change. They resist it. It’s comfortable to stay who you are. The person Lia is at the start of the story would never have been able to endure the crisis. But because she has changed by the end, she can make the choice that leads her to accept that Geoff’s love for her is real and enduring.
I’m trying to figure out what change the heroine is most reluctant to make. What is it, what is the one thing about herself that she doesn’t want to change? What is the worst thing that could happen to her if she does change? Or if she doesn’t?
Do you have any favorite techniques to uncover your characters? Maybe this is all old hat to you. If so, here’s a link so you can go play free rice.
WARNING: this blog post contains an inordinate amount of frivolous cat pictures. If you are allergic to cat pictures, proceed with caution.
I’m a dog person, all right? Let’s start out with getting that out in the open. I want to be honest about it.
I was honest with the kitten that showed up in my backyard one evening. Well, I was when I saw her. For the first week, I only heard her, usually under my bedroom window. Usually at five in the morning.
I made a deal with Unseen Kitty. I left food out for her, and she stopped crying. It worked, but I still didn’t see her for another week or so. Even then, it was just a glimpse before she hid in the bushes again. Based on what I know now, I’d say she was about four weeks old when she first started to live in my backyard.
It was months before she would let her get close to me. I did eventually get her to let me pick her up, but even that she would only tolerate for a few seconds before she started to squirm. But I made a point to tell her that she was Not My Cat. And she purred. That indicated agreement, right?
Not My Cat
I could not find anyone who’d lost a kitten. I do have a neighbor whose cat used to have kittens every year. All the kittens would frolic in my backyard for a few weeks, and then they’d all disappear. I suspect that NMC was a kitten who escaped the pogrom and took up refuge with me, but all I know for a fact is that no one would claim her. And the county people who take care of stray cats were unhelpful to the point of outright rudeness. They would not help with getting her spayed, even after she’d been in my yard for a month or two. They read me a lecture in not trying hard enough to find the original owner. It was Not Their Problem.
Fast forward a few months. I hadn’t had any luck persuading her to be an indoor cat, but she was happy enough in my backyard. I was saving up to pay for spaying NMC myself.The Cat Fostering groups had all pointed me back to the county people, and by this point I’d given up on them as well. Then I had to leave home for a couple weeks on a business trip. And of course, in the interim, NMC discovered Boys.
Which lead to NMK.
They were born outside, 2 calico females, 1 black-and-white male, 1 gray-and-white male. After a week of dealing with newborns and worrying about predators, NMC miraculously overcame her feelings against Indoor Cats. I was in my office working one day, and heard a tiny mew coming from the door. It wasn’t NMC making the noise, I discovered. She was holding the black-and-white male by the scruff of the neck, and he was making little cries. She dropped him at my feet and looked up with a pleading look on her face.
I brought all the kittens inside and settled them in the laundry room, with a cave-like cat bed, a box filled with straw, and a tray filled with kitty litter. NMC kept moving the incontinent kittens from this room, with its nice linoleum, to my office, with its pristine wall-to-wall carpeting. Because it was nicer? No. Because there’s where I was, and she wanted me to deal with her kids. She went back outside for much of the time.
I went out once, after she’d been out for a couple hours. She was lying on the grass, sunning herself for all the world like a woman reading a light beach novel by the pool. She looked up at me (metaphorically pushing down her sunglasses without lowering the novel) as if to say “What? I’m relaxing, here.” I pointed out that kittens needed to be fed regularly. When that didn’t work, I carried her in and parked her in the laundry room until they got fed. One of us Googled how to raise kittens, one went by instinct.
As soon as the kittens were old enough, NMC went to the vet for That Important Visit. The vet did ask me to keep her indoors for a couple days, but that did not work. As soon as the drugs wore off, she started asking to be let out. Then demanding to be let out. Then insisting at a loud voice. I brought her into the office with me, brought the kittens in there too, tried to hold her, calm her down, no luck. It got to the point where she was leaping up, three feet in the air, trying to get at the doorknob. I figured she was going to do something bad to the stitches if she stayed inside, so I let her out. I don’t know what people with fully feral cats do in this situation.
When Not My Kittens were a few weeks old, I started taking them out to meet the neighborhood kids. These kittens were not going to be half-wild. I was also hoping my devious plan would result in them getting adopted once they were old enough, but the kids had stern parents, unfortunately.
I had hoped to keep one or both of the boys, to keep NMC company, but she had other ideas. Once they were old enough not to need her, she wanted them Gone. She would have driven them out of the yard if I hadn’t found them somewhere else to live.
The two girls ended up going to a home together, to the son of an old co-worker. Sadly, the boys went to separate homes. The blessed kind people at the Oregon Humane Society take in kittens, give them their shots and neuter them, then charge about $80 for each kitten. I figure someone willing to put up that much money up front is probably someone willing to take care of the kittens. (Incidentally, OHS takes donations. I have found a new charity to support.)
NMC owns my backyard now. She comes inside to eat food, but the rest of the time she stays outside. Her new mission is to train me to live outside with her. While it’s true that she’s Not My Cat, I suppose you could make an argument that I am Her Human.
Cats. Don’t believe that innocent look they give you when they’re kittens. They’re on a mission.
“You didn’t really want to use this laptop, did you?”
Sometimes, it’s hard to convince those around you that writing is more important than playing with them. I am trying a compromise. Five minutes play time, twenty-five minutes staring at the computer muttering under my breath and deleting content.
Link du jour: Harlequin Forums. There are some interesting discussions on writing, with tips on how to write for Harlequin and information on their latest writing contests.