Monday, April 18, 2011

Those Vital Elements

What is it that makes a story memorable?

Most of us can rattle off a string of elements we consider important and—if you’ve been around the writing game for any length of time—a number of them will probably be correct.

There are a few which are classic. These would include:

A. A character (or characters) we care about.
B. Conflict and challenge for the character(s).
C. Honest dialogue appropriate to the situation.
D. Image-provoking words.
E. A satisfactory conclusion.

I thought about this the other night after watching a delightful film called “The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill And Came Down A Mountain.” It’s a quiet, feel-good film with subtle humor, good acting, excellent cinematography and a pleasant score.

Those, of course, are all good qualities. But to me what makes it truly memorable is the characters and how well they fit the above-mentioned classic elements.

As I said, it’s a simple story. Two British cartographers visit a Welsh coal-mining village in 1917. Their purpose is to measure what is considered “the first mountain inside Wales.” Their calculations determine the mountain is merely a hill. But the villagers have had so much taken away from them by the continuing war they are stunned by this insult to their pride of place.

Hugh Grant is probably the major “star” of the film. But his role is simply overpowered by that of the supporting characters, particularly the arch-rivals Reverend Jones (Kenneth Griffin) and Morgan the Goat (Colm Meaney) who are brought together by Johnny, a shell-shocked soldier (Ian Hart), and inspire the entire village to work together to increase the height of the hill and bring it back to its former glory.

Inspired by a story he heard from his grandfather, the screenplay was written and directed by Christopher Monger. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend checking it out. Monger comes from a family of writers and painters and obviously knows a thing or two about writing. Among his other work is the script for the outstanding HBO bio-pic, “Temple Grandin.”

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Romantic Suspense Author Margaret Blake

My guest today is my friend, multi-published author Margaret Blake. Greetings Margaret. I believe you recently signed another contract with Whiskey Creek Press. What genre is this and any idea on when it will be available?

MB: Hi John. I’ve actually signed two new contracts with Whiskey Creek Press. The first is for “A Sprig of Broom,” which was first published in hardback in 1978 and was my first novel. It is a historical romantic suspense and is set in the 1470s and seeks, as did my previous historicals, to tell the truth about King Richard. My second signing is also for a romantic suspense novel, “The Longest Pleasure.”

JL: That’s great news for your readers—two novels to look forward to. I know your late husband, John, inspired you to begin writing. How difficult was it to find a publisher for your work? What was your path to publication?

MB: I sent a novel to Robert Hale Limited in London and they did not want to take it, but said they would be interested in seeing more of my work. I decided to try my hands at historicals and “A Sprig of Broom” was born. I have always written but never believed I could be published. It was John who encouraged me to seek publication. It was the most thrilling moment of my life when I received an acceptance letter. John and I drank champagne and just floated around on a cloud of pure joy all day.

JL: How do you plot your novels? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

MB: I don’t outline. I get an idea and I go with it. I never ‘write’ a plot; I just go with what the characters want to do. They really do take me over.

JL: Obviously you like romantic-suspense. Who are some of your favorite writers in the genre? Have any influenced your style?

MB: I read Mary Higgins Clark originally (and still do), but I am not sure if she is a suspense more than a romantic suspense author. Otherwise I read either romance novels or thrillers.

JL: So you do enjoy other genres.

MB: Yes, especially thrillers. I love a good thriller. I love Michael Connelly and Harlan Coben as well as Kathy Reichs. I actually saw Michael Connelly in The Cheesecake Factory in Tampa once, but was too shy to say hello. I do regret not doing that now. I think he is super—although I am disappointed with who is playing “The Lincoln Lawyer” in the film.

JL: Any chance of a future book in some other genre?

MB: I don’t think so. I am writing in three genres—romance, historical and suspense. I guess that’s enough for anyone. Do you think I should saddle up and try a Western as you’re doing, John?

JL: I wouldn’t see any harm in it. Seriously, you’ve done a lot of books. What about short stories?

MB: I have tried short stories, but it never worked for me. I don’t know when to stop. I don’t have the discipline required. I so admire people who can write short stories and keep their plots tight. You are good at it, John. I wish I could do that, but I just can’t.

JL: What do you do in the way of promotion for your writing?

MB: I use the Internet to promote. Also, I contact local newspapers. I belong to many groups where writers can promote themselves. Recently I’ve also been doing talks on writing and these can be good for selling books.

JL: What’s your take on the future of the electronic novel versus print?

MB: When we started there was not a lot going on in e-books. Now it has really exploded. With the advent of Kindle and other gizmos it is really taking off. I don’t own a Kindle but will probably be buying one. It would be so handy if you’re traveling and you can download books without looking for a bookstore. I am always running out of things to read, so it would be splendid. However, being an old-fashioned girl, I love the feel and smell of an actual book. There is something special about that. I think they will both live on side by side.

JL: What do you like doing aside from writing? Hobbies, interests, etc.?

MB: I love to go out with my walking groups. I am fortunate in that I live close by some of the most beautiful countryside England has to offer. So I love to walk there. I like TV and the cinema and, of course, love to read. I also follow my football (soccer) team—MANU. I love to go eat out with friends, too, whenever I get the chance.

JL: I think we agree, writing is learned by doing, rather than through college or other courses of training. How do you equate life experience in contrast to educational opportunities in the development of a writer?

MB: You can’t beat ‘real life.” I left school and went to work at 15. I had a variety of jobs and was always writing and reading. Eventually I did get to college but that was after I had already published about 11 novels. Life experience and people are grist to the mill for the writer; that and imagination. Think about the Bronte sisters who lived in that parsonage in a small village. The work they produced was fabulous. Although Charlotte did travel and go to work in Belgium I don’t believe Emily ever went very far from home.

JL: Yes. A singularly talented family. We share an admiration for them. What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

MB: Don’t give up. You will receive rejections. But, if you are inspired, keep trying.
JL: Do you attend writers’ conferences? And, if so, any particular favorites?

MB: Not many. The ones in the USA are too far for me to attend, though I do come to the states to spend time with my family. I did attend one conference (I think it was the first for the Romantic Novelists Association) and found it useful and enjoyable. I am hoping to get to another, but probably not this year. I will do it again. I know I must. It might be worth mentioning that first conference was at Stonyhurst College in the Ribble Valley. Stonyhurst was founded in 1593. Tolkien was once there and it’s been said the Ribble Valley was an inspiration for his “Lord of the Rings.” I believe he wrote parts of his famous book there. There are Tolkien walks. It’s a beautiful area. The college is very old and inspirational. I loved it there.

JL: Thanks for being here today, Margaret. It’s been a pleasure. You can read more about Margaret and her books here: