Winter Delights

Joanna here: Snowman 3

It’s always seemed to me that cold needs snow in it. Cold without snow is like ham without eggs, Jekyll without Hyde, clotted cream without scones — which is to say, sad and pointless.

My favorite winter activity, in fact, is building a snowman. I like this because it’s ephemeral and my art is much improved if it doesn’t last too long. Snow is a medium that does not encourage a quest for perfection. One must accept the limits of the whole snowman realism thing. And it’s childish. I like to be free and deliberately childish once in a while. Making snowmen is, I’m sure, an ancient human activity. I connect to my presocietal ancestors.

Also, you end up with a snowman which is kinda a lucky thing to have about the place.

So I asked the other Wench what was their favorite activity in the winter, assuming I’d get back responses like, “sitting in coffee shops, doing edits” or “drinking hot chocolate with Peppermint Schnapps.”

Here is what they have to say:


Wench anneAnne
— you know she’s in Australia so she’s turned around from the rest of us —

We're coming into spring here, but I live in a city famed — infamed? 😉 — for its changeable weather, so it's teasing us with glimpses of spring and then reverting back to cold, wet and gloomy, which is our usual winter weather. We almost never get snow and when it does hit (about once in a decade) we all get wildly excited and take photos and make miniature snowmen — miniature because there's never enough snow for anything more than about a foot high — and that's pushing it — and the snow only ever lasts a few hours. So, failing the excitement of snow, winter for me is curling up somewhere warm and cosy with a good book, preferably beside a crackling open fire.

Andrea is an expert in snow: Wenches andrea 2

Growing up, I loved skiing. But the icy trails of New England no longer hold quite the same appeal, and as I don’t often get out to the powdery slopes of Colorado or Utah, these days I find oth er means of locomotion when the snow falls. I’ve unbuckled my downhill boots and tend to lace up my hiking boots in winter. I love walking down by the harbor near where I live and enjoying the subtle play of light on the water, both on cold, clear days and in stormy weather. There’s an austere beauty to the limited palette of winter colors and the always changing patterns of shadow and waves. I always go home to my writing desk feeling rechanged by the wonders of Nature. 

Pat takes a California view:

Wench pat 1My favorite winter activity is to run away from winter. We've spent our lives living in snow country, spent a week without electricity and running water, lived on kerosene heaters, the whole rigamarole. Now we live in Southern California and we go whale sailing, take long scenic walks on the beach, and travel. If it qualifies as an outside activity–I sit on the patio and read and write! It took a long time to shake the snow off our boots, but we're enjoying the sand!

Susan is another old winter veteran:

Spending my childhood in a small town in Upstate New York, I grew up doing plenty of winter activities Wench mjp 2 British Virgins– skiing at Lake Placid, sledding and ice skating in the local park (and my dad would flood the backyard, which froze into a perfect skating rink for us all winter). We built snow-people and forts and had epic neighborhood snowball fights. Truly a winter wonderland up there. Fast forward to my high school years, when we moved south to Maryland — where the opportunities for months of snowy winter fun were not so much. Scraping a few inches of dirty snow for a snowball to pelt a sister or a friend – nah. Now and then, though, the Mid-Atlantic does produce some very respectable snow. Years later, I was as eager as my kids to get my coat and boots on to help build snow-people, snow forts and go sledding down our nice steep hill, but good snow just wasn't reliable each year. Nowadays, I still very much love snow and snowstorms. But I'm more likely to be shoveling the driveway (though my husband does get the occasional surprise snowball – I'm cautious about this, as his return volleys are not near as gentle as mine!). I do love to go for a walk in the snow, especially when it's drifting peacefully and beautifully out of the sky. 

Then I stomp the snow off my boots, go inside, make some hot tea and curl up with a good book!   

Nicola says:

Nicola here. My favourite outdoor winter activity is taking the dogs out for a walk in the snow on a Wench nicola 1 Monty in the snowcold, crispy day with a blue sky overhead and the wind on my face. I find it refreshing and reinvigorating and the dogs go completely mad with excitement. It’s great fun watching them! I think maybe everything smells sharper to them on a snowy day. They also love the texture of the snow, jumping in it and running through it.  Ethel saw snow at the beginning of this year as a tiny puppy but if we get any this winter she will be able to go out and play in it. Angus loves it almost as much as going to the seaside! The picture is of Monty, our old Labrador, helpfully fetching my hat from out of a snowdrift.

Of course being so weather-dependent, this isn’t an outdoor activity you can guarantee and there have been plenty of years when all we have had is grey rain and dull skies. It’s difficult to whip up the same enthusiasm for a dog walk under those circumstances! The forecast this year is for a hard winter so we will wrap up warm and get out there.

And finally,

Mary Jo here.  I can't honestly think of any outdoor winter activity that matches up to curling up inside Wench mjp 1 with a good book and a cat on the lap!  But I admit that after a fresh snow, I enjoy a gentle stroll to appreciate the beauty of pristine winter. 

But I have much more enthusiasm for that winter activity known as a visit to the Caribbean!  Appreciated all the more because of what we've left behind. <G>

What about you?

As November swings past Thanksgiving and into December, what do you look forward to doing outside? What did you used to do that stays with you still in memory.

One lucky commenter will win a copy of my novella, Gideon and the Den of Thieves.

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Conflict And The Happy Ending

Joanna here. Having spent yesterday, Valentine's Day, exploring all the ways we can be in love. (Yeah love!) I thought I'd take today to look at the conflicts that hold our hero and heroine apart.
What kind of conflicts do we choose for our hero and heroine? How do we write them?

So I asked the Wenches.

Wench autumn brideAnne had this to say:

"Conflict" is a term often misunderstood by new writers, who think it means a lot of arguments and yelling. A better term is "the source of tension" which can be really powerful with no yelling at all. It's the central story problem that is preventing characters from reaching their goals.

For me, there are two main main sources of conflict — situational (where he wants X and she wants Y — or they both want X for different reasons) and character-based conflict. For me the latter is almost always the main one, though I'm happier if I have both kinds working together, playing off each other. Character conflict is where the hopes and dreams and deeply hidden fears drive the characters, and they have to work through them to find their happily-ever-after. Think "What does s/he want? Why can't s/he have it?"

For instance, in my book The Autumn Bride, apart from the usual misunderstandings between the hero and the heroine, there are two main sources of conflict. The first is that she's living under a false identity, but that's a relatively small conflict, fairly easily solved. A bigger conflict, especially for the hero is that he's made a promise to marry another woman,  a promise to which money was attached — part of a significant loan agreement with the woman's father. It's not just a matter of changing his mind — it's breaking his word, which is his bond. He's a man who lost everything as a youth — his future, his position and his whole sense of self was stripped from him, but his honor — his word of honor — is the one thing in his life that nobody could take from him, so to break it now is a major conflict for him.

I love that conflict in The Autumn Bride because it's a choice between love and honor. I'm a sucker for those.

In some books, the conflict can be less clear cut. There's plenty to keep them apart. What's needed is equally strong bonds to draw them together.

Jo Beverley says: Wench bookcover beverley tvnawnewsm

Conflict in a romance novel is a complex subject for all the reasons given, but it's whatever believably gets between the couple and their final happiness. It's different in every book.

My next book, The Viscount Needs a Wife, is a marriage of convenience story, and they always come with built-in stresses and problems. Sometimes the couple are enemies, but even if not, making a marriage with a stranger is a pretty tricky thing! Kitty is a widow, so marriage itself isn't odd to her, but her husband seems to suit his title — he's daunting. In addition, the behavior patterns from her eight year marriage lurk to make difficulties. As they would.

The new Lord Dauntry is already troubled, because he doesn't want a title or the responsibilities that come with it. He had a comfortable life as a bachelor in London, and occasional security work for the government to ward off boredom. He thinks a sensible wife will take his rural responsibilities off his shoulders and should be no trouble at all. Ha!

But this is the beginning. I find conflicts change and grow throughout a book, and as Kitty and Dauntry find ways to get along, new problems rise. And then, as surprising to me as to them, they discover that they share apparently impossible hopes and dreams. It's scaling those new high walls that powers the latter part of the book. The Viscount Needs a Wife will be out in April, but it can be ordered now. There's more here.


Rice_MagicintheStars600When I asked Pat how she chose the conflict for her characters, she said:

Choose a conflict? We get to choose our own conflicts?

Sorry, I just had a moment of process panic…  We all approach a book differently. I start with characters and a situation. These people pop into my head, nattering at each other, and they keep getting stronger and demanding that I listen, so I start taking notes.

I try really hard to define their characters, their motives, their goals, their flaws, all that good stuff, before I start writing. And the best way to develop conflict, for me, is to look at that list of traits and goals and see where one character opposes the other. He’s an astronomer…she’s an astrologer. How could that go wrong? He’s building telescopes and gazing at the stars…she’s drawing zodiac charts and telling him he’s going to die. Cheerful little devil, isn’t she? (That's Magic in the Stars, coming out March 29, 2016)

And somewhere thereafter, they’re off and running and I just let them go. I’m not saying I advise listening to those voices in your head, mind you. Because that’s just crazy. <G>

 

Cara has a somewhat similar approach to mapping out the conflict of a story.

She says: Scandalously yours

For me, conflict comes in two elemental forms, and I like to think of it with a Regency metaphor—the plot is like steel, and the characters are like flint, striking against the steel to set off sparks.  It’s the internal conflict of the hero and heroine that heats up the story. How they overcome doubts, fears, or whatever challenge stands in the way of achieving happiness is what makes us keep turning the pages.

 So . . . how do I going about creating these sparks?  I am a total pantser, so don’t ask. I get a story idea, I figure out basic conflicts that are torturing my main characters. For example, in Scandalously Yours, the heroine secretly writes fiery political essays pressing for social reform, but if her secret is made public, her family will be disgraced. The hero is an oh-so conventional lord who believes it’s important never to break the rules of Society. I had a perfectly good plot in mind for them, but by Chapter Two, they gave me the Evil Eye and started to rewrite everything. I was happy to hand them the pen. 

 

RogueSpy cover w-o blurbMe? My books are set in wartime. You got yer battling nations and divided loyalties. You got yer spies, lies, secrets, betrayals, misdirection, midnight flits, and the occasional gunfire, My heroes and heroines are now and then on opposite sides.

So my problem isn't so much creating the conflict to keep my people apart. There's distrust and cross-purposes scattered thick on the ground. The problem my unfortunate characters face is carving out some little niche of peace to fall in love in. My people have to learn to trust each other . . . and they aren't all that trustable.

In Rogue Spy, for instance, my hero and heroine, Pax and Cami, were children recruited as spies by the French Revolution, both trained to perform horrible deeds, both placed as covert operatives in England. They meet again as adults — ingenious, dangerous, tough adults who have to wonder if they can allow themselves to love each other.

(P.S. They do the trusting thing, but it takes a while.)

 

 

In your own reading, do you have favorite sorts of this-is-what-keeps-them-apart?
Do some sorts of conflicts just annoy you?

Some lucky commenter will win a book of mine. Their choice.

Crafty Skills and Writing Thrills

Joanna here with this month's question for the Wenches:

Do you have a hobby or handicraft that's important to you? Does it ever find its way into your writing?

 

Mary Jo sWench MaryJoPutney_RiverofFire_200pxays:

Alas, I am not crafty, except perhaps in my plotting.  I learned basic sewing as a girl and made some of my own clothes because that's what girls did in that time and place, but I wasn't enthusiastic about it, and I was a complete loss at handcrafts.  I botched cross-stitch and never mastered crochet and had zero interest in embroidery.  I did learn to knit in college because it was a way to keep hands busy when we sat around and talked, and I even managed a few large needle sweaters.  But they weren't very good except for basic warmth, and I haven't knit since I got out of college. 

 

 With the exception of young Bree, the hero's daughter in Sometimes a Rogue, my female characters aren't very interested Wench NotQuiteAWifeMMin handwork, though they can mend things as required. And now that I think of it, Laurel, the heroine of Not Quite a Wife, crocheted baby blanket squares while on a long carriage ride, but that was more because poor babies needed warm blankets.  I don't think she was much interested in crocheting for crochet's sake.  <G>  So I guess you could say that my lack of handicraft interest has made its way into my writing!

 

  On the other hand, while I don't have much gift for crafts, I have my share of interests.  As an art school graduate and a professional designer, art and design creep into stories, most strongly in River of Fire, where all the major characters are artists and don't know how they feel unless they have a paint brush in hand.  <G>  And I love music, though again I have no particular talent other than being able to do some research, but it's fun finding a four hand piano version of Vivaldi quartets on youtube, then telling my characters to take it from there.  <G>  A nice thing about writing is all the elements we can weave into our stories!

 

Nicola offers us music:

It’s interesting how many writers are also creative in other artistic fields. I have absolutely no talent for painting or drawing, or sewing, Wench Unmasked - US publishedknitting or making anything with my hands. As a child I did make patchwork cushions in my sewing classes at school and I was also passably good at cookery, which I think is another creative talent. However it was music that I loved and singing was a hobby of mine from childhood.

 

 I studied music at school and learned the piano and wrote some (bad) songs. I joined my school, college and church choirs and was also a member of a local choral society that toured Europe one summer. That was very exciting. My first love was always church music but I have tackled just about everything except opera! My singing tutor was a very fierce Scots lady called Mrs Buchan who had been a professional singer and was a very inspiring teacher.

 

 A number of characters in my books are musical and have good signing voices. Some of my heroines are talented at the piano or other musical instruments. When I am researching a book I do enjoy seeing which pieces of music were popular in the period and choosing something that my heroine might be singing or playing in the drawing room after dinner to entertain the other guests. In Unmasked, the heroine Mari gives away the secret of her ancestry by singing a Russian folk song.  When I write musical characters I am always reminded of Mary in Pride and Prejudice who loved playing the piano even though she had little aptitude for it, and her father saying: “You have entertained us long enough!”

 

Susan is musical as well as craftsy:

 

 

Writers and some kind of creative handiwork are a natural fit — the creativity often spills off the page and Wench susan 1into some other expression like arts, crafts, gardening and so on. And if we're not craftsy otherwise, we can scribble and type a mile a minute, and that's a talent of the hands if there ever was one! 

 

 

I went to art school, so for years I did paintings, drawing, prints and so on, even while I thought about stories. I haven't made art for years (though I do want to return to it), but I always have some kind of handiwork going. I try different things rather than stick with one, so I am master of none and explorer of many. I've done lots of crochet and knitting, and usually have a knitting project going; I've churned out throws and scarves and such, and keep it simple (I love big circular needles and soft yarns, and have no patience for small-stitch projects). I've done beading, basket weaving, needlework, sewing, collage, murals, scrapbooking — it often comes down to my degree of patience for the thing. I especially love to refinish furniture and paint rooms. My routine after completing a book usually involves painting walls or redoing furniture. Give me a ladder, a can of paint, some music and I'm happy.

 

Wench susan 2Some of the art has worked into my novels – I've written about a painter, an illuminator, a sculptor, an art historian and so on. I also wrote about harp playing after taking lessons in Celtic harp years ago. I loved it, and better understood long-ago harpers and harp music. That definitely helped when I wrote The Angel Knight, Lady Macbeth and Queen Hereafter, and if I write about a harper again, I'll dust off my Irish harp and tune it up!  
 
Cara/Andrea brings us:
 
I have an art background, so I’ve featured a both a heroine and a hero who was an accomplished Wenches A Diamond In The Rough-medwatercolor artist. But I’m also the Wench “jock”, as I enjoy sports as a way of relaxing. A while back, I took up golf—I’m pretty athletic, but it was one of the hardest endeavors I’ve ever tried— the swing may look easy, and the ball is not moving, but trust me, getting the timing right takes practice and patience! However I really enjoyed both the cerebral challenge and walking the course. After a day of writing, I love going out in early evening and playing a few holes. I can’t tell you how many plot tangles I have unraveled on the fairways. There’s something about switching gears and doing something physical that clears the brain synapses!
 
On a trip to Scotland, I visited the Old Course at St. Andrews, where golf was popular during Rgency times, and then was lucky enough to play a round with the Duke of Roxburghe, who is a passionate golfer . . .which got me to thinking! I decided it would be great fun incorporate my new hobby into a Regency romance. I did a little research on clubmaking (there are some wonderfully quirky clubs, like clerks and mashies fron that era) and then penned A Diamond in the Rough.The heroine is a great golfer but must disguise herself as a boy and work as a caddie to be allowed to play at St. Andrews. She’s assigned to teach an English lord how to play the game in order for him to play a match to win back his ancestral home, which his wastrel father has gambled away. And well . . . the game is on, in more ways than one.
 
 
Jo comes back with a very down-to-earth hobby:
 
Wench josgarden2Gardening. I'm not sure I've ever written a garden-obsessed character, but my books often have garden scenes and named plants with significance. My
characters are going to have gardens as most people in the past did until the
worst town developments of the 19th century, which led to the allotment
movement — an awareness that people, especially the poor, need a place to grow
food and also to have touch with the land and growing things.

Most of my characters are wealthy enough to have estates and gardeners, but they still take an interest. Interestingly, my book-in-progress, The Viscount Needs a Wife, has a hero and heroine who don't. They're both London people, not fond of the countryside, and know nothing about how to grow anything. I like to be different!

 
Anne says (and this is so cool. I had no idea about the dolls):
 
Wenches myWrapBraceletsI nearly always have some craft activity on the go, whether it's hand-made Christmas decorations, small things for dolls houses, or various kinds of jewellery. I'm more slapdash than meticulous, but I do enjoy making small things.
 
I used to babysit a friend's daughter on a regular basis and as a result I developed dolls house disease. I made lots of tiny things for a dolls house that one of my adult students had given me when she'd learned I was looking after a little girl and had No Dolls!!
 
It was a weekly ritual — my little friend would arrive, we'd get out the dolls house and the box of contents and set the house up from scratch — different every time. At the end of the day she'd tell me what new thing the dolls house needed, in that very cute imperious way three and four year olds have. "I think the dolls house needs. . . a dolls house." Or "I think next week the dolls will go . . . to the races. They'll need hats." This was after Melbourne Cup day and someone had been watching "Fashions on the Field" on TV. So I made hats for tiny dolls.
 
Currently I'm playing with jewelry. Fiddling with small things helps me concentrate and you'd be surprised Wwenches DollHathow often, while apparently concentrating wholly on a necklace or bracelet, I solve a plot problem. I go through stages with the jewelry, too. Not so long ago I was making things using natural crystals, which I love, but was sidetracked recently when a friend suggested I make a beaded leather wrap bracelet — and I was off and playing.
 
Few of these things ever find their way into my writing. I wrote one story, The Virtuous Widow, a Christmas novella that included a dolls house, and that was inspired by my little friend and our dolls house games — she's mentioned in the dedication. Nothing since then, but you never know . . .
 
 
Wenches pat rice wickedPat rounds us off with some wonderfully practical hobbies:
 
I garden and I fix up old houses, so I’m going to guess those aspects of my life creep into my books on a regular basis. I believe readers have upon occasion remarked that they know they’re going to get houses and kids when they read my books. Apparently I’ve disguised the gardening fever better. Even in Formidable Lord Quentin, when the characters have plenty of fancy London houses that need no work, my protagonists end up in a neglected rural mansion battling rodents and bird nests. We have the kids and horses in that one, but no garden.
 
I outdid myself in Wicked Wyckerly, though—the heroine owns a farm and gardens, the hero owns a truly neglected mansion AND townhouse, and we have kids galore. But I’m thinking children probably aren’t a hobby!
 
 
So. What about you? What hobby brings you joy and makes you more creative? If you were to write a book, which of your avocations would sneak into the text?
 
Some lucky commenter will win a copy of any of my books they choose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What We’re reading — November

Anne here, hosting our monthly feature "What We're Reading"

We'll start with Jo Beverley, who says: I recently dived into my keeper shelves, and I've been re-reading Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles. I used to read the whole series frequently, but I haven't for a while now and I decided it was time. Six big books and not as much reading time as I used to have, but I'm enjoying them tremendously. Gok

For those who don't know them, they're based around a central character, Francis Crawford of Lymond, a Scotsman whose adventures we follow around Europe and up into Russia in the mid-16th century. The books are about him, but stretches are about other important characters and from other points of view and the plots involve most of the significant historical characters and events. The Tudors, the de Guise, Ivan the Terrible, Suleiman the Magnificent, Nostrodamus!

Despite being all about him, we're only in his point of view once, so our picture of him comes through the view of others, which I think is key to the fascination Lymond holds for many. We have to learn him as we learn people in real life — from the outside.  I'm not aware of anyone else having written about a  series character in that way and it was daring for sure back in the '60s.

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What Wenches Recommend – July

JeevesNicola here, fresh back from the RWA conference in San Antonio, Texas, where I met up with several of the other Wenches plus other friends old and new, and had the best time!

This is the July What We’re Reading. This month though, we’ve decided to shake it up a bit and call it “What Wenches Recommend.” This could be anything from books to food to places to visit or anything you like. So once you’ve seen a few of our favourite things this month, let us know your recommendations too! 

 First up, an old favourite from Pat:

I've not had a lot of good luck with books this month, but found a complete collection of the Jeeves and Wooster series with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. We'd not seen all of them so really enjoyed catching up on missed episodes. If you haven't read the original P.G.Wodehouse stories, give some of them a try first so you can see how beautifully they carry out these characters!

http://www.amazon.com/Jeeves-Wooster-Complete-Hugh-Laurie/dp/B001V7UXG2/wordwenches0b-20

http://www.amazon.com/Jeeves-Omnibus-Illustrated-P-Wodehouse-ebook/dp/B002TX6ZKU/wordwenches0b-20

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