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It is always a pleasure to see my postman struggle up the path with book parcels for me. An honour to be considered a reviewer of note, I read as soon as I can and write reviews that are not just happyclappy quickies but essays and distribute via blogs, forums and readers websites such as Compulsive Reader.

My reading genre is not quite the same as my science fiction writing genre. Consider my current batch of review books to read.

Mitzi Szereto: In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed – erotic take on traditional fairy tales.

Sam Stone: Futile Flame – erotic vampire sequel to her Killing Kiss brilliant book

Ben Larken: The Hollows – his Pit-Stop remains my favourite horror of all contempory fiction

David Greske: Blood River – hitchiking vampire beauty – looking forward immensely to reviewing this one

K.L. Nappier: Full Wolf Moon and Bitten – I know her books are extraordinarily well crafted.

Sam Smith: Towards the unMaking of Heaven – intelligently written science fiction.

How do I find time to read, review and write my own stuff? I don’t know! If you live in Chester you’ll see me reading on the bus, in cafes, waiting for my wife in shops, while walking. And scribbling notes. It is a time problem but also a privilege to have authors consider my opinions are worthy of their publishers spending the money to send me their oeuvre.

My wife also looks at that postman and then at me, prompting my speech: No, I haven’t spent our money on these!

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By Geoff Nelder

I laughed the other day because I received a request from a baby naming site to link with my writing one. Initially, I thought this was a curious variation of a Nigerian bank scam, but once my stomach subsided I realized there was some sense here.

 

When I started writing fiction, characters’ names appeared from a mix of telephone directories, atlases and local newspapers. A snag with the directory method is repetition and so time consuming. As my fiction reached into more exotic parts I found a site with a name engine that gave me lists of real names from different continents.

 

Choosing the right name for a character is as important, if not more so, than choosing one for a newborn. You don’t want a tough gangster being called Cedric, or – I realize I may be upsetting real people here – an academic called Buster. It isn’t so simple. One of our aims is to have our main characters undergo change during the plot. The change is usually one gleaned from experience such as surviving a crisis, or it could be a coming of age. For such a character a name that can also ‘grow up’ is handy. That’s why many novels use Robert. Bobby as the kid, Rob as he matures, Robert as a gentleman then Bob as an ancient with dementia.

 

As my main genres are science fiction and fantasy I have great fun making up names. It was a voyage of discovery when I conjured up a name for a prehistoric man living in the Middle East. Twenty thousand years ago was before any established religion so Mohammed was out. However, I reasoned that since that region would likely have had a proto-language that led to early Arabic. I played around with Omar but although ancient was too new for my character. I felt I needed a Q in there since it is a feature of so many names in that region. Oqmar thus was born. If you google Oqmar 99% of the hits are for my ancient man in my recent book.

 

So what was the link I was asked to make from my website? It is Quick Baby Names. I gladly acceded because apart from having spent months trying to convince daughter that Ewan is a great name for her baby, the site gives the derivation and meanings. My daughter chose  Oliver, and he’s gorgeous.

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I will admit that I never used to outline at all, throwing myself into work without any thought of where I was going (or if I had a thought, I was convinced I would remember the relevant points when the time came…most of the time I didn’t and the ::ahem:: blinding flash of brilliance was lost forever) 😦

I don’t usually outline for flash pieces under two hundred words, although any longer than that and I may jot down a few lines in a notebook to keep me pointed in the right direction and keep me well away from any tangents.

Interior View

Longer pieces of work usually go through a similar start up process. I’ll have an idea (or a line or scene will come to me);I’ll stick it in my notebook and then either brainstorm a bit to flesh out what I’ve got, or leave it there until I think I need it.

Once I decide that I am going to use it, I start to flesh things out: who’s who? what do they look like (the bits I need to remember – musn’t have Hero with green eyes on page 4 and grey eyes on page 9). I’ll make a guess as to how many chapters I think I’ll have (so far, this is always wrong but doing it this way helps me with the planning). Then I start to fill in what will take place chapter by chapter, marking off who’s POV a scene will be in, and so on. If I’m on a roll, I’ll even do an outline for the last chapter – sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t.

My outlines started out on notecards but, as they tend to be quite detailed, this wasn’t feasible for long and I ended up transferring it all into a Word document.***

Now I just put things straight onto the computer, and my notes will often include dialogue or phrases that I like and want to include (although putting it into the outline doesn’t mean that it will be shiny enough to survive edits!) There will also be the odd note reminding me to look something up (e.g. a specific date something was introduced, clothing etc.)

It isn’t set in stone; chapter contents can move around, characters can change. I’ve just found, for me personally, that having some kind of plan makes it easier to continue. The starting off is usually all right – it’s the continuing beyond the first couple of pages that the outline makes possible. I usually aim for at least a paragraph per scene in the outline.

Once I’m happy with the plan, I get cracking on the actual writing and this is where the chapters begin to move around a little. This doesn’t worry me. The outline isn’t meant to be a map I stick to fervently for fear of heading off into Here Be Dragons territory, it’s more of a guideline. So if you discover your characters doing something completely different in chapter four than you’d envisaged in your outline, worry not. The outline can be altered as you go along to take new actions/ dialogue/ adventures & escapades into account.

Don’t let the outline strangle you. It’s there as a helpful tool – if it’s not helping, don’t use it. Outlines help some people all of the time; some people some of the time; and some people none of the time. If you’re in the some/none category and you prefer writing on the fly – that’s fine. 🙂 If you’re not sure whether outlining is helpful to you or not, try it on something short. If it helps the words flow from your fingers/ pen then that’s great. If, however, it leaves you blocked and grumpy then maybe outlining isn’t for you.

So. Do you outline, or not? What are your reasons either way. If you do some form of outlining, what method have you used and have there been any problems? Do you have a shining example of a great method to share with us?

Sing out!

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***Some people use mind-maps/ spider diagrams and other, more visual methods to outline or plan their story.

See Jim Van Pelt’s post here for a look at the method he uses.

See also Jay Lake’s post here on his method – it also contains a link to Justine Larbalastier’s related post.

Also, take a look at the post on Editorrent on Scene Charts – this gives some advice on managing big projects.

And for those of you who love sticky-notes, Diana Peterfreund has a number of good entries on using plotboards to visualise the scene/chapter plan.

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Exit, Pursued by a Bee

Exit, Pursued by a Bee

An interesting set of questions has arisen with the release this weekend of a new review of my Exit, Pursued by a Bee. I’d noticed a reviewer’s name, Tony Williams, crop up many times in the scifi
forums and so I approached him. He, like me is a British author and reviewer. He said he’d review Exit if I reviewed his scifi book, Scales. His book, like mine, has an admittedly preposterous premise at the beginning but then procedes to follow with the logical consequences. I love this kind of scifi. It is the what if scenario. Example: what if gravity suddenly acted upwards for an hour each day? Ridiculous but once being made a given, the rest can be logical and very interesting! I wrote Exit in that kind of vein.
It wasn’t meant to be humour book even though the irony of some scenes had to be given their head. The problem is some readers only then see humour and then write a review along Mr Bean lines. It didn’t help that the blurb for Exit was written by a reader / editor who mainly saw humour in the book. Others see the advanced physics in the Quantum Mechanics of time decoherences and realize that the physicist in the book says nothing a real theoretical physicist wouldn’t. This should be the case anyway since I researched those aspects muchly. I have a Masters in Science, am a Fellow of a Royal Society and best of all, married a theoretical physicist! hah – the irony seeps in again…

For those of you who have been kind enough to buy and read Exit (still only the price of cheap fast meal for the ebook and not much more for paperback) then peep at the contentious review that is up at
http://forum.sfreader.com/default.aspx?f=7&m=85751&p=1

Perhaps you would think that it is a good review and that I am being too sensitive. You can add comments if you freely register.

A warning to our newbie writers here, who have yet to launch a book. It is interesting because we spend maybe two years researching, writing, revising with the aid of crit groups, editing and polishing a book. Then we release it like a fledgling sparrow into the swiping paws of hungry cats. We hope spadge survives, find friends and reproduce, but one wrong gust of wind and it’s down and gone.
Hopefully I can create maelstrom of argument at that and other review sites to at least generate sales!
Geoff Nelder

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You know, it’s difficult to see myself as a Romance Writer but I guess that’s what I am now. Erotic Romance, admittedly, but Romance nevertheless. Yes, I still write short ‘stroke’ stories such as the Ladz “Local Lovelies” series , and they go down quite well, but there’s no denying that Lost&Found, Charlotte’s Secret and (when it’s finished) Chloe’s Education are anything but romantic in tone.

When I wrote my first sex story back in ’98—a story about a threesome at a housewarming party—I never envisaged being classed as a romance writer. Back then, for me at least, romance novels were still very much the “Mills&Boon” type. You know, heart & flowers, purple prose etc.

But Romance has changed. Readers now want ‘heat’. They want to know just what the heroines are feeling and what’s being done to them to make them feel it (if you know what I mean). Graphic yet sensual descriptions and thorough exploration of sexual needs and desires are the order of the day. And it’s not restricted to heterosexual relationships either – it’s my understanding that gay romances sell as well (if not better) than straight ones. Hell, there are even some BritWriters who write gay romance, isn’t that so?

But Erotic Romance still has its ‘rules’. Rules updated from ‘old style’ Romance. There must be a hero and a heroine (for straight romances at least – I’ll let more knowledgeable people talk about GLBT romances). The heroine should be a strong modern woman, but at the same time vulnerable. And the heroes need to be strong alpha-males. That’s what the girls want (or so I’m told) – the alpha-male. And since women are the predominant readers of Erotic Romance – alpha-males is pretty much what they get. And since it’s mostly women who write Erotic Romance, they are happy to serve up them up.

But I think I’m a little different from most of the erotic romance authors out there. For one, I’m a bloke – so hopefully I offer something a little different to your average female author. A different perspective, if you like. A male perspective.

And, possibly, a British perspective too. Does being British matter? Of course it does. Look at Hugh Grant – he’s made a career out of playing decidedly British men in romantic comedies. The likes of Colin Firth and Alan Rickman haven’t done bad out of being very, very British either. And let’s face it, could any other nation on earth have spawned probably the greatest romantic hero ever, Pride and Prejudice’s Mr Darcy?

I suppose at this point I really should make clear what I see as an Alpha-male in romantic writing. Well, Wikipedia (my usual Internet standby) just comes up with a definition in terms of wolves and chimps so that’s not much use. The closest I got was this

Alpha Male: a term used to describe a macho male character within a romance.

from fiction forum.

Not the best definition in the world, but when you look deeper it seems that everyone likes to argue argue about it. Look here, for example, where it seems that Alphas are both good things and bad, depending on who’s answering. Still, it’s suits my argument to use the definition above. So let’s stick with that. Are my male leads alpha-males? Or are they bumbling upper-middle-class Hugh Grant’s or stiff-upper-lipped, oh-so-proper Mr Darcy’s?

Actually, they’re neither. My male leads aren’t alpha-males, mainly because I’m not what you’d call an alpha-male. And hey, I’m a working class boy from the Black Country – I couldn’t sound like Hugh Grant even if I did have a plum in my mouth (I’d sound like Ozzy Osbourne on a bad day – “Sharrooonnn!”)

No, I was the nerdy, booky type at school, the one who was bullied for wearing glasses, the one everyone came to so they could copy their homework instead of doing it themselves. And I think that reflects in my male leads. They, like me, are modern (some even say, slightly cool) young Britons. Typically they are intelligent, in well-paid professional jobs. They are stronger than I ever was – they’re not going to be bullied and they will stand up for the woman they love, but they are ‘new men’ (if that term is still used – personally, I hate it). They are sensitive, they get hurt. They have their flaws. Hell, you could even go as far as to say that, at times, they wear their heart on their sleeves.

In fact, I don’t really like referring to my male leads as “heroes”. I prefer to call them (like I just did) Male Leads or the Central Male Character. I guess I’m just more comfortable with that.

Let me try and show you what I mean by reference to the Central Male Character in Charlotte’s Secret.

David is, in some respects, the antithesis of an alpha-male. He’s an accountant—intelligent and respected in the local business community and far from what most people would think of as an alpha. He’s also trapped in a loveless marriage. Why? Because he did what he thought was right and married a woman he didn’t love just because she was carrying his baby (at least, he thought she was). Now, you know and I know that in modern Britain, marrying someone just because you’ve knocked them up isn’t the done thing anymore – but David is different. He’s from a broken home. He knows what it’s like growing up without a dad – and he’s going to make damn sure he doesn’t inflict that on any child of his.

And it’s David’s relationship with the little boy he believes to be his son that is central to this whole story. It’s that relationship that makes David behave the way he does.

Does that sound like an alpha to you?

In my e-books, far from painting my Male Leads as alpha-males, actually, it’s my antagonists (or villains if you prefer) who are the “traditional” alpha-males.

So, let’s focus on my two Phaze releases, Charlotte’s Secret and Lost & Found.

There is, unquestionably, a character fitting the description above in Charlotte’s Secret. His name is Mike Liggins and he is David’s wife’s bit on the side. He’s not the sharpest tool in the box – in stark contrast to David who is so smart it’s scary – but he is built like the proverbial brick-shit-house and has an unfathomable attraction to the ladies. As Charlotte thinks to herself when she’s hidden in the bushes watching Susie give Mike a blow-job

…he might be rough and ready, and not that bright, but he did have one thing going for him…

Later in the story, even Charlotte succumbs to Mike’s animal magnetism when she finds herself day-dreaming about him.

“You want it, then? After all you’ve said about me? What was it you called me? Moron, wasn’t it? I’ll show you who’s a moron.” He slammed into her hard and kept on slamming as Charlotte’s orgasm built again.

“Oh, yes. Harder! Faster! Give it to me, you bastard!” She screamed as her orgasm hit. How long it lasted, she didn’t know. She didn’t even know if Mike came or not.

He’s big, strong and assertive. I imagine him down the pub with his mates bragging about his conquests, going to watch the football, leading the chanting and then getting into some agro with the opposition supporters afterwards. He’s a beat-your-chest, almost stereotype of an alpha-male. And he’s my villain.

Moving on to Lost & Found, we find a different type of alpha-male. Unlike Charlotte’s Secret, which is told mostly from David’s point of view but switches to Charlotte’s for the few scenes where David isn’t around, Lost & Found sticks firmly to my Male Lead’s point of view throughout. Chris is an Economics PhD, and although his job is never specified, Beth does refer to him as a ‘financial whiz’.  But Chris isn’t an alpha-male in the traditional sense. Yes, he’s a bread winner, and yes, he earns a lot of bread but his most significant relationship in recent years has been with a woman on the other side of a computer screen on different continent. Not exactly alpha material.

Whereas Beth’s father, Colonel Robert Burnett, is alpha-male all over. Retired Colonel, he’s used to being in charge, used to having his orders followed. He’s proud his championship winning, quarterback jock son joined the army. You couldn’t get much more ‘alpha’. But here’s were he differs from Mike in Charlotte’s Secret. The most important thing in The Colonel’s life, is his daughter. He just doesn’t express it very well. He expresses it like an ‘alpha’. He tells her what to do, shouts and gets mad and frustrated. But he’ll do what he needs to protect her. Look at the scene on my own blog here.

Can you see the difference between what I consider my two Male Leads in this piece? Yes, The Colonel is as important to this story as Chris is. This is a story about two men vying for the affections of one woman – her father and her lover. Chris stands up to The Colonel, but it shakes him – he’s not used to it. He does it because he loves Beth and wants to protect her. The Colonel wants to protect her too, it’s just a shame he’s too pig headed to see he and Chris want the same thing. The Colonel handles the situation like an alpha, Chris handles it the way I like to think I’d handle it.

I guess that to some extent my Male Leads are an idealised version of me. The way I’d like to see myself almost. Not exactly, just a little bit, because like all characters, as the story develops they take on a life of their own and become personalities in their own right.

So there we have it. My take on the traditional male lead in romantic fiction. I’d love to hear your thoughts. And here’s a challenge to my fellow BritWriters – tell me about your male leads, especially if you write gay romance, it’d be interesting to compare, don’t you think?

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My New Novella, Lost & Found, is released by Phaze today. At 26000 words and $4 (around £2), Lost & Found is the story of two men’s love for one woman – but not in the way you think.

Chris has flown across the Atlantic to be with his ‘cyber-lover’ Beth in her hour of need, but Beth’s father, The Colonel, is damned if he’s going to let some guy from across the pond steal away his only daughter just days after he lost his only son.

An emotional rollercoaster that takes you from the sorrow of a military funeral to the highs of winning big in Las Vegas, Lost & Found is a must read.

Buy it today direct from Phaze today, or look out for it on Fictionwise, mobipocket or All Romance eBooks very soon.

To see the stunning cover by Kenrda Egert, click here.

To read an excerpt click here or here.

Still Available – Charlotte’s Secret

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Hello and welcome to our regular weekly brain-busting ‘pick a British writer’s brain’ day,

The ‘rules’ are simple – just use the comments section to ask your questions on any aspect of British life, language or writing, and one of the panel of British writers will get back to you during the day. As before, keep checking back for the answers – and we all hope you have lots of fun!

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