Thursday, February 23, 2012

Guest author Mia Marlowe: The Devil's in the Details

Mia Marlowe writes historical romance for Kensington and Sourcebooks. Her work has been featured in People magazine and one of her novels is on display at the Museum of London Docklands next to Johnny Depp memorabilia. Her books have been translated into 8 different languages. Publishers Weekly has named her Touch of a Rogue one of the Top Ten Romances for Spring 2012! Mia loves to connect with other writers and readers and invites you to visit her cyber-home, http://www.miamarlowe.com



First of all, thanks to Liane for inviting me here today. I received plenty of writerly advice on my way to publication and I’m always happy to pass on what I’ve learned. So if you’re an aspiring writer, or a reader who’s interested in peeking behind the wizard’s curtain to see what sort things authors angst over, I invite you to pour yourself a cup of coffee and join me as we take a look at ‘the Devil in the details.’

Actually, it’s more like the author’s voice is in the details. For me, the thing that establishes that elusive quality we call voice is word choice. The words we choose establish a tone, create a mood and hook our reader with an unusual turn of phrase. Sometimes it’s a matter of using a word in a totally incongruous setting. My hostess, Liane Spicer, does this brilliantly in the opening of her Café au Lait:

‘This is no way to die.
Shari walked a gauntlet of male eyes as she made her way along the aisle of the aircraft.’ (Liane Spicer, Café au Lait)

First she propels us into deep POV by letting us hear the panicked thoughts rolling around in her heroine’s head. I defy anyone not to read on after that first sentence. Liane could have then told us plainly that her heroine was feeling as if all the guys in the plane were ogling her, but the use of the word ‘gauntlet’ in a fresh way hooks me big time and gives me further insight into Shari’s state of mind. She’s feeling totally threatened, but Liane has shown me, not told me, so. What a lovely compliment to a reader. She respects us enough to let us bring something to the reading experience. Only two sentences in, but I know I’m in for a story well-told.

Details can place a reader in a world that is totally alien. Depending on what out of the ordinary element you choose to use, there is an element of risk. Here’s a bit from my MaidenSong that demonstrates the principle.

‘The wrinkled little face puckered and the newborn shrieked as if Loki, the trickster godling, had just pinched her bottom. Helge wrapped the child snugly in a cat-skin blanket, crooning urgent endearments.’ (Mia Marlowe, MaidenSong)

Mention of Loki lets readers know they are not in Kansas, but the real risk in this little snippet is the cat-skin blanket. It’s historically accurate to the Viking culture, however, I knew I might really upset cat-lovers with the phrase. Using the fur of an animal we think of as a beloved pet telegraphs that this story takes place in primitive culture, one that’s not quite safe. Coupled with urgent endearments, it makes you wonder why Helge is so anxious to quiet the child.

Sometimes a writer will choose an unusual detail and juxtapose a unique sensory connection to create a sense of what sort of story a reader is in for. In my upcoming release Touch of a Rogue, I paired some unlikely details for my first sentence:

‘The bed creaked out a merry rhythm of squeaks and scritches, like a chorus of tree frogs.’ (Mia Marlowe, Touch of a Rogue)

By starting with a bed, I’m letting readers know this will be an adult tale. But the merry rhythm of squeaks and scritches is not a usual sensual detail for a romance. It’s not sexy, but it definitely creates a sensory impression. As a side note, I had to fight with the copy editor to keep scritches. She insisted it wasn’t a real word. It may not be, but I maintain it conveys exactly what I want my readers to hear. Then by adding a reference to tree frogs, a perfectly absurd pairing with a bouncing bed, I’ve implied that Touch of a Rogue is going to have plenty of light moments. And besides, when tree frogs sing it’s because they’re “in the mood for love.”

I was able to make the first sexual encounter in my story a little ridiculous because my hero isn’t in the bed. He’s under it. His lover’s husband came home unexpectedly leaving him with no other choice but developing a deeper acquaintance with dust balls.  And a fresh aversion to tree frogs.

Every word counts. As well as showing clearly what’s happening in the story, our words are all preloaded with tons of subtext. And sometimes, it’s what’s inferred by that subtext that’s even stronger than the surface sense of the prose.  It’s responsible for the tingle a reader gets when she reads a passage and doesn’t realize why she feels that way. Beneath the words, the real story lies. An author depends on her readers to find the true tale embedded in the ink.

GIVEAWAY! I’d love to take questions or comments. If you’re working on something you’d like my input on, ask away. If you’re reading something that’s struck you as out of the ordinary, please share. I’ll reward those who speak up by offering a Touch of a Rogue to one lucky randomly drawn commenter.

20 comments:

aretha zhen said...

Hi , today I just read a book called little girl gone by drusills Campbell . This book takes a very interesting point about how thin is the line of being an adult and kids. This book questioned one important fact , are being kids always better than being adults. Next, this book also explore about children trade in which little babies has been kidnapped from their teenage mother and sold to others . For me drusilla' story is very appealing to adult and young adult readers to understand the term adult itself and what it takes to become responsible adults :)

Eli Yanti said...

Hi Mia,

maiden song is your new book? sounds interesting ;)

i just finished romancing the duchess by ashley march, love it ;). looking forward to read her other book

Betty Hamilton said...

I am currently reading New Species Slade by Laurann Dohner. It is very different from my normal reads and has really caught my attention. I think its wonderful when new writers look toward writing something a bit different from what is currently 'out there'. Its a bit of a gamlbe, but can be very well worth the effort.

Ashlyn Chase said...

Great post, Mia.

You know I love learning things about history from you. Oddly enough, this cat lover didn't feel offended by the cat blanket. I knew there was a reason it was there. You always have those details right.

MIa Marlowe said...

Aretha--Child in jeopardy stories are always hard for me to read. Very emotional.

MIa Marlowe said...

Eli--I love Ashley March's work too. Did you know she's now writing ebooks as Elise Rome?

Mia Marlowe said...

Betty--Sometimes we need a different sort of book to shake us up.

Mia Marlowe said...

Hey Ashlyn! Missed you at the NEC meeting on Sunday. Glad to see you here.

Charles Gramlich said...

The "telling detail." Absolutely! And any mention of Loki will get my attention.

Emery Lee said...

Great post! I think deep POV is particularly difficult for newer writers to understand but it really makes the connection on am emotional level.

I would love to enter your giveaway!

Liane Spicer said...

Mia, welcome to Novel Spaces! We're delighted to have you!

I enjoyed your post immensely and am soooooo flattered that you used an example from my novel to demonstrate your point. :) The telling details are indeed what convey the voice and tell the story. One such detail can save you (and the reader) paragraphs of 'telling'.

Barb H said...

Excellent post, Mia. The problem of "voice" is one so many of us writers "angst" over because it's so nebulous. Your examples make it understandable. Thanks.

MiaMarlowe said...

Charles--I'm a sucker for the Norse pantheon too!

MiaMarlowe said...

Emery--YOu're in! Good luck!

MiaMarlowe said...

Liane--You've hit upon it exactly. One specific word can save dozens of "almost" right words.

MiaMarlowe said...

Barb--Don't angst. Like the color of your eyes or handedness, your writing voice just 'is.' It's the unique way you tell your story.

Karen E. M. Henry said...

Mia...great post today!
My current wip is talking to me in 2 voices. One is 1st person and the other....3rd...both are trying to make their way into the story and I'm feeling a bit like a split personality.

Gobbling up how to go deep & stay sane is always valuable! :) In voice that is of course.

Linda said...

I just finished reading Anna Randol's debut book "A Secret in Her Kiss". It was really good & the cover is absolutely gorgeous! I would recommend it to any1 who likes historical romance.

MiaMarlowe said...

Karen--Some of Diana Gabaldon's books alternated between 1st and 3rd person. I'm not sure I like it. It's jarring to be deeply in 1st person for one chapter, then "disembodied" by 3rd person in the next. I'd recommend finding a way to pick one and stick to it. But who am I to argue with the amazing Ms. Gabaldon? I guess with talent, it's possible to pull anything off.

MiaMarlowe said...

Linda--I've heard good things about Anna Randol's debut. She was one of Publishers Weekly's Top Ten Romances for Spring 2012 (along with my TOUCH OF A ROGUE!)