Monday, June 27, 2011

Great Beginnings

Have you ever wondered what it is about a novel that keeps you spellbound from page one? It’s not magic. It has to be that you, the reader, connects on a deep inner level with the main character, and you’re living the story as it unfolds, right?

As a writer, how do you capture your reader’s imagination in that way, and so immediately? How do you give readers enough information to titillate the senses, and leave enough enticing tidbits to lead them through the story until their appetites are fully sated at the end? How do you achieve that awesome comment from a reader when he/she tells you they stayed up until 3am to finish your book?

Multi-published romance author, Lynn Kerstan, is here to share her insights into the art of, Great Beginnings:

Robena: You speak, and teach, about introducing irresistible characters. Can you explain?
Lynn: I believe first impressions count. They endure throughout the story. How you first present your main characters is far more important than the opening “event.”
There are six main points:
1. Choose the qualities you most want the reader to perceive in your main characters on the first acquaintance. You can’t show them all up front, nor do you want to.
2. Find the opening scene action that will allow you to show the specifically chosen aspects of your main characters.
3. Recognize the personal qualities most relevant to your character’s story arc.
4. Plan specific ways to “unpeel the onion” and reveal the hidden depths and unexpected (even contradictory) aspects of your character’s nature.
5. Foreshadow character traits in the early scenes.
6. Create irresistible hooks that make readers want to stick with a character they’ve just met and find out what happens to him/her.
Robena: Excellent. I think those six points will be typed, printed, and taped to my computer. Do you have any other words of wisdom that relate to great beginnings?
Lynn: I teach an online class and go into greater depth with the points made above. In Part B, I discuss three more topics:
1. The Inciting Incident
2. The Story Question
3. Other Essential Stuff.
Robena: I like that, “Other Essential Stuff”. Would you care to explain some of that “stuff” today?
Lynn: What Not to Write; False Starts; Prologues; Backstory Blunders; TMI—Too Much Information. I’m always adding material and changing material based on questions from class members. They teach me a lot about what they need and want.
Robena: TMI. Yes, I have been guilty of that, or at least my adult children tell me so. Ha ha. How long does the course run? Also, when will you be teaching the next class on beginnings? Or are you teaching a different topic?
Lynn: Three or four weeks, depending on the sponsoring RWA Chapter or other writerly venue. The next “Great Beginnings” class runs 01August-28August, offered by the Futuristic, Fantasy, and Paranormal Chapter of RWA.
More information and registration available at:
Robena: Tell us a little about yourself.
Lynn: I’m a former college professor, folksinger, professional bridge player, and nun, the author of nine Regency romances, seven historical romances, and several novellas. I’m also a five-time RITA Finalist, with one win, and I’m currently developing a paranormal series.
Robena: Wow! That’s an impressive bio. I’m sure you’ve tapped into that life experience for your novels. And did I hear you say you were once a nun?
Lynn: Yep.
Robena: Care to elaborate? I had two great aunts who were nuns. They were really funny characters, and they had a fabulous outlook on life.
Lynn: Well, I think I’m funny. Others beg to differ. Spent only 2 ½ years in the convent, though, at Mount St. Mary’s in Los Angeles. It was a wonderful experience. I’m glad I went in, and I’m glad I came out.
Robena: Thanks for sharing about yourself, and your incredible writing knowledge. I know that I learned a lot from this interview, and I’m sure my chapter mates will also. I’m going back to the work in progress to take another look at the beginning, and I think my focus will be on your first point.

To learn more about Lynn, or for information on her online classes, please visit her at

(This interview first posted in the LARA Confidential, June 2011.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Thank you Whirlpool.

How often do you get blog subject matter from your washing machine?
Do any of you remember Cathy from the comic strip? It was based on Cathy Guisewite’s life, and dealt with the four basic guilt trips women have: food, love, mother, and work. I used to enjoy Cathy’s take on things and for the most part could relate. She poked fun at the foibles of modern women, but in a nice way, and I always read that strip in my daily newspaper.
Anyway a lot of years ago I had bought a Cathy doll. She’s quite tall, maybe eighteen or so inches. She’s totally made of fabric and pleasantly plump. Her skin is pale pink, with brown wool hair, a drawn on cartoon face with kind of an “oops” smile, and she wears a blue outfit. I didn’t know until yesterday that the dress is fixed with Velcro to her body and it’s covered by a long sleeved matching blue jacket. She wears fabric blue shoes and they are fixed in place. Velcro’d to her hands is a brown briefcase also made from fabric, and printed on it are the words: Take Life One Disaster at a Time.
I liked those words and thought they were good ones to live by, and I tried hard to follow that advice. Although some days when my kids were teenagers it was more like too many disasters to deal with, and how can I juggle all of them? I’d look at Cathy, who always sat on the spare chair in my office and was only removed if someone wanted to sit there—except for my son who used to just sit right on top of her—and I’d roll my eyes and say, “Okay, Cathy, speak to me.” Over the years Cathy was relegated to different places as my home space got smaller and the kids went off in pursuit of whatever it is that kids pursue. Yesterday I found her again. She was looking a little the worse for wear: dusty, crumpled, and her hair was tangled. I threw her into the washing machine, not realizing her clothes could be removed, tossed in the detergent, started up the machine, and went back to work on my latest WIP. Then, as writers are apt to do, I got deeply involved in my work and forgot all about Cathy.
This morning I decided to wash towels and opened the top of the washing machine. There was Cathy, totally naked, and totally dry. She was smiling up at me, her pink body smooth as a baby’s bottom, her clothes lying in disarray on the bottom of the machine, and her briefcase torn from her little hands. She looked happy, like she’d had a really good night of it. I burst out laughing. Then I took her out and dressed her. She didn’t even need a spin in the dryer, but her hair? Let me tell you whatever she did in that machine, she sure had fun. That brown wool hair was too tangled to comb out, so I did the best I could and braided it, tying it off with a rubber band. Then I reattached her briefcase, like she was heading back to the office.
She’s as good as new, if not better, and she seems quite content sitting on a stool behind me. I’m not sure about her smug smile though, maybe it’s satisfaction after her little spin?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Fruitless Loop

I recently read in my horoscope that I must beware falling into a fruitless loop. I love the term. I rolled it around on my tongue like it was a mouthful of rare and expensive wine and my job was to define all of its subtle nuances. Then the phrase began to play tricks with my mind. It was like an earworm. A tape track playing over and over and over until I couldn’t shake it loose.

Soon my thoughts centered on cereal. Quite a jump, but you catch my drift…Fruit Loops…no, they must be fruitless loops, like in plain Cheerios. I love Cheerios. Cheerios with sliced banana or blueberries, skim milk, and a couple of cups of coffee. That gets me going in the morning. Cheerios at night while watching TV and sipping a nice smooth Pinot Noir. Cheerios, you ask, with wine? Sure. Toss them in with some trail mix and you have quite a healthy snack...especially if you buy the whole grain instead of the plain. But, back to the fruitless loop, what does that mean?

I suppose it’s like taking the freeway home, and then looping from one interchange to another, going through the motions, driving on automatic pilot…but then again you would have a destination or goal in that scenario. You’d be on a freeway loop but there’d be fruit at the end because you’d arrive home. How about walking on the treadmill yet going nowhere? But wait a minute, that would also bear fruit, wouldn’t it? You would at least lose some weight or firm and tone your legs, stop your butt from sagging. So that could be considered fruit, the fruits of your labors. What about the hamster racking up miles on the wheel? He’s going around and around and getting nowhere fast. Or is he? Maybe that workout aids his digestion so he gets to eat more fruit. Think about it.

Seriously, I think the fruitless loop is about human emotion. It’s about being locked into one way of thinking that shows little or no progress. Or the replaying of negative messages, thoughts without end, without purpose, and that bear nothing positive. No fruit for the effort. I think that’s it. It’s a mind thing, the games we play with our thoughts, the endless analyzing.

A fruitless loop, I love it. Have you ever been on one, and how did you jump off?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Midnight in Paris

Right off the bat I'm going to say I LOVE THIS MOVIE. Woody Allen has captured something beautiful, magical, whimsical, in his study of human relationships set against the backdrop of Paris. Paris by day, by night, in the rain...but especially at midnight. Go to the theater and let yourself be swept up and away in nostalgia in this gorgeous film, Midnight in Paris.

I won't give away any spoilers here but will say that for any artist in search of his or her own creative authenticity, this movie will put you on the right track. It isn't your standard Woody Allen movie. It isn't your standard romantic comedy. In fact the comedy aspect is so subtle, so sophisitcated, I was surprised to see it fit into the rom-com genre. And I want to see the movie again to capture those lines of dialogue that made me sit forward in my seat and gasp or smile.

The way Allen directs his cast, the way he nurtures those subtleties of character, those nuances that come from a wide-eyed gaze, to a flick of an eyebrow that can say so much, is pure genius. I think this might be Owen Wilson's "moment" in his career. I understood his character was in essence a portrayal of Allen's own self, but the tender way Owen played the role of Gil was gorgeous, and he didn't show any of the cynical side that often comes through in Allen's movies. Instead he was awestruck.

Gil was totally blown apart with excitement to be stepping back in time and hobnobbing with the artists of a bygone era. The way he discovered himself through discovering those artists was captivating. Haven't we all thought at some time that we'd missed the boat, or been born into the wrong era, or that the so called Golden Era was long gone and would never be repeated? That lure for the past, that longing for what was comes because we can't see into the future, all we have is today. Somehow today looks so ordinary. So lackluster. Not so, this film.

Thursday, June 09, 2011


I was recently acknowledged on a friend's dedication page in her novel. It made me smile, and I must admit I was quite chuffed.

Melissa and I met about ten years ago when we joined LARA, the Los Angeles chapter of Romance Writers of America. We joined a large critique group and met after the monthly meeting to exchange chapters, comment upon, and generally try to learn from each other's writing attempts the best way to write a romance. Those were fun days.

We were an eclectic group and all have remarkably stayed friends some ten years later. What surprised me most was Melissa and Gina (my current critique partner) were young women, not much older than my own daughter. Melissa was recently married with no children, Gina was single. They were so modern and contemporary, and I was this old lady who was single, didn't even date, and had no idea how to write a romance for today's reader. They loosened me up. ; )

Over the years we broke away from the larger group to find smaller numbers to critique with. My group of five went on to produce three successful authors. Then those authors were deluged with contracts and marketing and building a brand, and we split again. Melissa and I critiqued for a while and then life got in the way for her as she was working, had a baby, and so on, but we've always been there to support each other in times of need. Gina and I still critique and we seem to do just fine.

Melissa wrote a wonderful story that was a historical time travel. It got so close to being published in several of the big houses, she garnered an agent with that story, and life started to look promising. Then things went topsy turvy as they often do in life, and the agent changed vocation. Publishing was beginning to change, and not for the good for new writers. Melissa never gave up on her story. She knew it deserved to be published. Me, on the other hand, I'd write a story submit it five or six times, get a rejection and move on to the next story. Ah, I think there's a lesson here, somewhere. ; )

Melissa's first novel, Past Her Time, came out in e-book and is available at Bookstrand Publishers this week. It should be available at Amazon in a week or so, and it will be published in print in October 2011.

Check it out, you won't be sorry.