My guest today is an old friend and a person whose work I adore, so please join me in welcoming Heloise West to the Comfy Chair.
Welcome, Heloise and thanks for answering my questions.
In that crucial inspiration stage of a new story which comes first? Plot, situation or character?
Situation and character strike me first. For Ardent, the origin scene was Benedetto working to make that fine pigment wash, sandwiched between two situations—the death of the master painter and the arrival of a new master, the latter of whom he’d taken temporary solace from the pain of a bad breakup. My old historical critique group sent me back in time to get up to that point—I do sometimes start too late in the story, or stick too long with the first moments of the scene that’s risen to the surface, not seeing that it’s not the first scene, just a pivotal one.
Do your characters arrive fully fledged and ready to fly or do they develop as you work with them? Do you have a crisp mental picture of them or are they more a thought and a feeling than an image?
In my first novel, Hitting Black Ice (contemporary romantic suspense from Loose Id) Hunter pretty much arrived fully fledged. I knew he had a traumatic background and an idea of what it was, but he always had that bubble-off-plumb sense of humor, calling himself Mata Hairy at one point when he’s taken up a bit of recon. The love interest in trouble was a mystery man, even to me, and readers wanted to know more about him, so he got more screen time in the sequel.
In Ardent, Morello was the less complicated of the two and determined to both do the right thing and to have what he wants. He was easier than Benedetto, who had to be equally determined though his needs and wants were at war with each other on a larger scale. It was hard to keep Benedetto from being a flake, but I like the way he turned out.
Is there any genre you would love to write, ditto one you would avoid like a rattlesnake?
Historical mysteries are my heart and soul, and I’m hoping to find a slice of time to work on a few of them soon. I can’t seem to make myself write straight romance, but I have a few bunnies hopping around. I have to say I avoid writing science fiction like a rattlesnake because I’m so bad at science in general. I’d definitely be putting the fiction in science, lol.
Do you find there to be a lot of structural differences between a relationship driven story and one where the romance is a sub plot?
Yes!! I got to a point in a recent manuscript, the third in the contemporary romantic suspense series, when I had a very strong feeling, wishing it was a plain old mystery I was writing and not a romance. (I always, always wanted to do the “Ellis Peters thing.”)
I use beat sheets and structural how-to books for some books and veering off from the romance arc has been appealing lately. Sometimes I lay scenes out physically with post-its and huge sheets of paper taped to the wall, scribbling all over the place. It’s tempting to follow the nonromance arc and see where it goes.
I think it’s the emotional map that’s different. In a romance, you’re focused on just these two and whatever emotional landscape they share between them. That takes precedence. This landscape is different in a mystery, everyone’s emotions are important to solving the crime/mystery, how they felt about the victim, their reaction to the crime. A puzzle with more pieces, I think.
I’ve got to get these mysteries down and work on them so they won’t jump in front of the romances. I feel like an overburdened bookshelf some days. Most days, lol. I write slowly, so there’s quite a backlog messing up the works.
When writing series, what measures do you take to keep track of those annoying little details – eye colour, car type, name of ex-spouse’s dog – that are so easy to drop into text and so easy to forget about?
Sharp-eyed critiquers and beta readers. I’m too disorganized to make and keep a series bible. Thank goodness for the search capability in Kindle, so if I do question something, I can check it faster.
Villains are incredibly important in fiction since they challenge the main protagonists and give them something to contend with beyond the tension of a developing relationship. The cruel sea. The serial killer. The society itself. Your hero’s inner demons. What sort of villains do you prize?
At this point, I find myself wrestling with three main characters who have done something awful and unforgivable, and they aren’t straight and narrow good characters to start with. But somehow I have to redeem them, bring them back from doing more damage to the world or themselves. It’s damn hard. It goes against my own McJudgey morality, but it’s doable because, hey, it’s fiction, and I still have to make this redemption believable and the characters really have to work at making it realistic, too. I think that’s more interesting and challenging than plain evil. Though I do have a particularly nasty villain in If I Were Fire, a novella set in 18th century Tuscany (from Dreamspinner Press). He was fun to work with. But no one wants to romance him–ick!
What are you working on at the moment? Can you discuss it or do you prefer to keep it a secret until it’s finished.
So, yeah, the three main characters from the novels I’ve been working on and about to embark on: The third in the Heart and Haven series, Nick, is on submission, but it’s bounced back to me once for clarification edits—it might come back again. Nick is…complicated, and not in a good way. He was the antagonist in Hitting Black Ice, but he got a shot at redemption and took it. (My editor liked him.)
The second novel is William, from the Order of the Black Knights multiauthor series, the brainchild of Thianna Durstan. The knights traded their souls to become warriors in an evil wizard’s army during the middle ages. They are doomed to be killers and mercenaries to the end of time, unless they can forgive their enemy and free themselves from the curse and the cycle of rebirth. I’m half way through this one.
Falcone, from Ardent, has a mystery to solve and love to redeem him, like the guys above, but he’s not easy to get along with. He was born in the slums of Florence and has lived on the streets most of his childhood. From Ardent: “Of loving parents he had no experience, Leo had once explained, a man-child who craved the light, but feared to leave the familiar darkness.”
Could we please have an excerpt of something?
In Ardent, Chapter Two, Benedetto wants Morello to teach him to swim…
“Some find it strange to put their faces in the water,” Morello went on in a slightly lecturing tone. It gave him distance from the beautiful man naked beside him. Why had he thought this would be a good idea? “Or their whole heads. Hold your breath and – ”
“I’m not an infant,” Benedetto scolded lightly. He took a breath and sank beneath the surface completely.
When Benedetto rose again, the water running loving tongues down his body, Morello said, “Then on to floating. If you relax, the water will buoy you up, like so.” He went face down into the water, arms and legs spread out, acutely aware of his naked ass, but he liked being naked with Benedetto. He floated there a few moments before turning onto his back and beginning to move his hands and feet slightly in the slow-moving water. “Now you.”
Benedetto flopped down face first in the water, thrashed about, then stood again, chagrined. “You make it look easy.”
“Let’s go deeper.” Morello pulled him a few arm’s-lengths farther out into the river. “Maybe you don’t trust me.”
“I trust you,” Benedetto said quickly.
Morello thought his answer more polite than true. “You can trust me. I would not hurt you for the world, Benedetto. I won’t let you drown. Is that what you fear?”
“I don’t know why or what I fear,” Benedetto murmured. “I think I can trust you, Morello. I want to.”
“On your back,” he said gently, trying not to think about whispering those very words by lamplight, in his own bed, Benedetto spread out against the bolsters. Well, his imagination had ever been his master, had it not? Morello put his arm under Benedetto to support him, and the man did not thrash about as he had before. He put his hand to Benedetto’s flat, hard stomach, and did not allow it to wander. “Gently. Relax. Close your eyes if that helps.”
Ardent from Manifold Press
Cover image: © Kiril Stanchev | shutterstock.com
Cover design: © Michelle Peart 2017
Historical M/M Romantic Suspense
In the village of Torrenta, master painter Morello has created a color that mimics the most expensive pigment of all, the crimson red. Master Zeno, from strife-ridden Medici Florence, tells him the color gives him a competitive advantage – but Morello must be careful. Fraud is ever-present in the dye and pigment markets.
As they work together in Torrenta, Morello falls hard for Zeno’s assistant, Benedetto Tagliaferro, a young man of uncommon beauty and intelligence. Benedetto is still fixed on his old lover, the master painter Leo Guisculo, and cannot return Morello’s affections.
But when Leo dies in a terrible accident, it’s to Morello that Zeno and Benedetto turn for help. And Morello soon finds that in Florence, every surface hides layers of intrigue.
Publication February 1, 2017
Barnes and Noble
About Heloise West:
Heloise West, when not hunched over the keyboard plotting love and mayhem, dreams about moving to a villa in Tuscany. She loves history, mysteries, and romance of all flavors. She travels and gardens with her partner of fourteen years, and their home overflows with books, cats, art, and red wine.
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