Wednesday, July 5, 2017

When Good Characters Do Bad Things, OR The Beginning of Legally Mine

I knew these comments were going to happen. In fact, I've been sort of bracing myself against them. As review come in, this is me:

Nic Waiting for Reviews

MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ PAST THIS POINT IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS IN LEGALLY MINE.

Okay, now that we've gotten that out of the way, I have something to say.

Something happens at the beginning of Legally Mine that I knew had the potential to piss a lot of people off. At the end of Legally Yours, we find out that Skylar, the main female character, was pregnant. By the time I had released that book, I already knew what was going to happen next, which is why it was rough to get all of those reader comments saying that Brandon was going to be an amazing father. Which...yes. He probably is. Just not in Book 2.

This, as many of you discovered, is because in the beginning of Legally Mine, Skylar has an abortion. And yes, it's Brandon's.

...

...

Sorry, I was just waiting for you to stab me through the computer screen.

I know. I KNOW. I know this is frustrating, and I know I'm breaking a lot of rules here. Abortions aren't supposed to happen in romances, right? Aside from how polarizing they are politically, if the baby's gone, it's supposed to be through a more palatable route, like miscarriage, that doesn't make the character culpable, and, if some of your reviews are any indication, ultimately unlikeable.

But that wasn't my character. That's not Skylar.

See, another thing I see from a lot of your (very appreciated, by the way) reviews is that you love my characters' multi-dimensionality. You recognize that I'm not just writing pulp fiction here; I'm trying to write real people. And the reality is that this story is as much about Skylar and Brandon's growth as very flawed, complicated people as it is about their love story.

Skylar's a pain in the ass. She tries to make smart decisions, but the reality is, she's a little dysfunctional socially, and like many people in their mid-twenties, is pretty self-absorbed. Does that frustrate you? Because let me tell you, it frustrates the hell out of me.

Nic Writing Skylar

But I'm not God. And when her pregnancy happened (and yes, it does "feel" like things just "happen" sometimes when I am writing them. I often feel like a photographer more than a creator), I also had to ask myself: what would someone like this do? What would someone who is cornered by shitty circumstances, someone who is a liberal, urban thinker, someone who is extremely career-driven and well-aware of a lot of the pressures inordinately put on women to raise children, someone who is also terrified about her own abilities to be a parent in the first place...what would she do?

The answer was quite simple. She wouldn't keep it.

Nic Writing The Scene (You Know the One)

It was hard. It was so hard to write that scene (the one at the doctor's office, and the one where she takes the pills themselves) that I had to cut them short. It was so hard that I had to come back to them after I had written most of the book.

But I also hope this decision is a catalyst for a lot of the character development Skylar goes through during the course of the book and the next. Legally Mine was hard to write because even the happiest of scenes were riddled with her remorse, her guilt, coming to terms with the fact that she has hurt the person she loves the most.

And isn't that what so often happens with first love?

You tell me.


One last note that should probably serve as a disclaimer about my books moving forward: 

If you want characters who are perfect, you should not read my books.

If you want characters who always do the right thing, you should not read my books.

If you want characters who won't be flawed, make mistakes, even do some of those things repeatedly, you should definitely not read my books.

I don't think that life has to imitate art (meaning that art should be something we all aspire to), nor do I think art must imitate life. Usually it's somewhere in the middle––taking the intense, the mundane, the beautiful, the ugly, and amplifying it to the point where viewers take something away from it that allows them to feel their own human experience that much more intensely.

xo,
Nic

Monday, June 5, 2017

A Massive Thank You: Early Feedback on Legally Mine

Hoo-boy! It's been a seriously busy month. The best news is this: LEGALLY MINE IS FINISHED. The book is currently up for pre-order on Amazon, and just going through one last round of proofreading to make it all beautiful before its wide release on June 28. I am so, so very excited and nervous to see what everyone thinks. This was me last night:



Writing is so intensely personal, and this book in particular was really difficult in some ways to write. It came fast and furious, but after some of scenes, I'd often feel like I'd just been run over by a truck. The characters make some choices that really angered me, and I suspect will also anger you guys too, so it's a little nerve-wracking to put something out that that feels so intensely vulnerable.

But.

We don't write to be safe, do we? Aristotle, my main man, pronounced the point of poetry as catharsis: that process of purging those uncomfortable emotions we can't figure out otherwise. So my characters are just like anyone else: they make bad decisions, and they make good ones, and they have to deal with the fallout of both.

Which brings me to my point of writing: your feedback. This morning I woke up to an amazingly kind review of an early edition of the book. Knowing when my work resonates just means THE WORLD to me, you guys. I love, love, LOVE hearing from you. I had such a goofy smile on my face that my students this morning clearly thought I was nuts. I was way too happy for the end of the quarter. So that lady up there turned to this:



So I just wanted to say: thank you. Thank you for all of your support. Thank you for your reviews, which help vouch for the books and interest other readers too. Thank you for your participation and communication with me on social media. Thank you for being part of this amazing adventure.

Places where you can get in touch:

Nicole French's Le Merde (a Facebook reader group)
Nicole French Facebook page
On Goodreads (please leave a review!)
On Twitter
On Instagram
On Pinterest

xo,
Nic
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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Drama, Drama: The Evolution of a Cover & a Legally Mine Release Date

So, you might have already known this, but last week I had a cover release party. The powers that be (meaning, my editorial folks and loud-mouthed friends), informed me incessantly that the original cover for Legally Yours wasn't "sexy" enough for the book.

This was the first cover, which most of you probably remember:



It's pretty, yes. And the color pops, although, as I learned later, the text is hard to read in thumbnail. But mostly what everyone wanted was more sex-appeal, which this doesn't have at all.

Ugh.

I mean, I know the book has its share of steamy bits, but that wasn't really the heart of what I set out to do, which was to write about complex characters and their development. Okay, and their chemistry. But this is romance, not erotica, and I didn't want to sell it like that.

Still, I conceded that the cover could be spicier. So as I geared up to promote Book #2 (OUT JUNE 28TH BTW), I hired a new designer and we got to work designing not one, but all three new covers for the trilogy. Here's how they looked:





 I think they looked pretty nice, albeit maybe a bit...homogeneous. But my designer did a good job, and I was happy with how they turned out: sexy, but not vulgar, you know?

So I have a release party for the first one. I have my marketing strategy all mapped out for the second. I contact all my blogger friends, and they're sharing on their pages, and people are sharing the new covers there. And then...both Facebook and Amazon reject my ads for Legally Yours and the new cover. For being too sexually suggestive and explicit.

WTF.

I don't even know. It's so indicative of the puritanical society we live in that a picture of a fully dressed man kissing a fully dressed woman's NECK could be considered too sexually explicit. Sigh. Don't ever take these kids to Europe, is what I'm saying. They are going to be freaked out by all the penises everywhere. Statues and statues of penises, everywhere you go. Except, the Vatican, of course, where they're all covered with leaves. But I digress.

So I had to make a new cover, and I had to do it fast. This time I decided to try a different route. The covers for each of the books will be a bit different, although they will feature the same fonts and graphics. The first features a "Skylar" kind of model, the second will feature a "Brandon", and the third will be a sort of collage of the two. The second and third are not ready yet (patience!), but you can see the NEW-new cover for Legally Yours now:


 Well, what do you think? Actually, don't tell me (actually, do). I canNOT change this cover again.

As a consolation to both myself and my readers for putting up all of these shenanigans, I decided, at long last, on a release date for Legally Mine. Have at it, folks. Pre-orders will be ready as soon as the second cover is done.


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Why Brandon Acts Like Such a Jerk; or My Beef with Christian Grey

Over the last few months, I've received a bunch reviews on Legally Yours. Good or bad (and mostly good--thanks for those, by the way!), often one question comes up:

Why is Brandon such an asshole in the first part of the book?

-------SPOILERS AHEAD IF YOU HAVEN'T READ LEGALLY YOURS-----

Brandon's a dick at first. I get it. That scene in the office where he tells Skylar he wants to fuck her? Yeah, I pulled that trope right from how many popular romance heroes: Christian Grey, Jesse Ward, Gideon Cross, Hudson Pierce...don't they all have these weirdo, creepy moments where they make some kind of creepy indecent proposal toward the heroine?


Brandon has a moment like that with Skylar too. It's an uncomfortable scene. Frankly, it was uncomfortable to write. There's a lot of sexual tension, which clearly sparks when they make out. But he's also being an unmitigated asshole. Take a look:

“Mr. Sterling, why am I here? Somehow I don’t think it was just to enjoy a cup of tea or argue about shoes.”

He sat back into the couch again and rubbed a big hand over his face. “Haven’t I told you yet to call me by my first name?”

I shook my head. I would have remembered that.

"It's Brandon," he said as he propped his head up with one hand. "You should call me Brandon. Especially since I asked you up here because I'd really like to fuck you. Tonight, if that works." 

Ewwwwwwwww.

So...why does he do that? And, once it became clear that Brandon wasn't, in fact, the asshole he seemed like in the beginning, why did I choose to keep that whole part of the book?

The main reason is this: toxic masculinity.

Okay, let me back up to the beginning of this thought process.

See, I really, really hate Christian Grey.

I mean, look at that dude. What. An. Asshole.

Christian Grey: Emo Thumb Biter
...

...

...

Still there?

Okay. In all honesty, I've probably read the Fifty Shades trilogy about five times. It's a fun read. It did a lot for the genre, it did a lot for my marriage (TMI, sorry), and it made a lot of people feel safer about exploring alternative sexual practices. I am here for all of that. That is super good.

Darcy and Rochester: The OG-CGs
But my issue with FSOG juggernaut is that it also further normalized a whole other level of toxic masculinity. Think about it. We live in a world where most men do not feel comfortable with their emotions, and that in turn fuels a whole bunch of abusive behaviors that people start to think are okay and even desirable. Christian Grey comes from a long line of sullen English dickheads (think Darcy, Heathcliff, Rochester, etc.) that emotionally manipulate women because they just can't get their shit together enough to say "Hey, I just want to be loved." And I am so, so over it.

Brandon's character evolution developed in response to that. I didn't start this book thinking he was going to be some alpha-billionaire, but that's what he ended up being. And as a character, he, like so many men in real life, is torn between the popular conception of how "real men" are supposed to act (sullen, distant, powerful, controlling, etc.) versus how his devotion for Skylar really makes him feel (vulnerable, kind, sensitive, loving).

To me, that's a realistic struggle, even when it takes place in a book that's pretty over the top. And so I decided to keep Brandon's shitty behavior, if only to allow him to build toward that "a-ha!" moment where he realizes it won't actually get him anywhere-–not with a women who's worth being with. I wanted to write a version of this trope that allowed the male figure to get beyond his own social conditioning without being "saved" by his lover.

So what do you think? Did I meet my goals there? What do you think about Brandon's character evolution?

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Monday, March 27, 2017

Book Two Updates

I know, I know. There's been a lot of radio silence lately. And you know why? Because I have been writing up an absolute storm. Writing to the point where I should be ready to announce a release date within the next few weeks! Aaaah!


Right now I am finishing up the last few planned chapters of Legally Mine, Part 2 of the Spitfire Series. Brandon and Skylar have not been making things easy for themselves, but their story has been coming, fast and hard, and that's made my job a lot easier. So, here is what my schedule is looking like for the next few months, once I finish this first draft:

April: 
  • Commission new covers for the entire series. I'll be doing some reveals for this on Facebook, so definitely follow me there! 
  • Edit/Revise Legally Mine. This will be my top priority 
  • Set a release date! 
May:
  • Send book out to beta readers and final proofreading. Make last rounds of changes and prep book for release. 
  • Solicit advance reviews for Legally Mine. Look for opportunities to get an advanced review copy of Legally Mine if you have already reviewed Legally Yours on Amazon. 
End of May/June
  • Hopefully release the book! Woo-hoo! 




Announcement: Chapter Release!!!

And now for the big news: to celebrate all of this progress happening, I'm going to send the first chapter of Legally Mine, Spitfire Book 2, exclusively to my email subscribers on FRIDAY this week! 

All you have to do is subscribe to my email list via my Facebook or right here on my website. 

I do not spam my subscribers. In fact, this chapter release will be my very first email to everyone. So please, sign up for exclusive content and giveaways. 

Thanks so much for all of your support, everyone! 






Thursday, March 23, 2017

Interview: Holland Rae

I had a great time sitting down for an interview with Holland Rae this week. We chatted about her writing process and upcoming work.

Author Interview

Describe your writing process? How do you start writing? Is there a consistent pattern to how you write your books?
My writing process looks a little like the way a 1940s Film Noir detective might research a murder case [she laughs]. I usually have several stories going on at once, each with their own bulletin or white board covered in notes. I tend to write in series, so I need to be very organized – outlines, interviews, settings, etc. It might not seem organized to anyone else, but I know which stack of notes I need for the day. I'm always writing stuff down.


What advice would you give to new writers in the field?
Simple: Read. Write. Always. The more you read the better you're going to get. The more you write, the better you're going to get. There's no silver bullet when it comes to being a writer. I'm still figuring out what some of the rules are for marketing and writing at the same time. But if you're serious about being a writer and you're trying to make a profession out of it, treat it like a job and not a passion. If writing is your hobby, you get to have writer's block, but I realized a while back that if writing is your job, you don't.


Who are you reading right now? Give us your top give new recommendations:
So many things! Eek, not even a fair question! Okay, I'm a huge fan of Laura Kaye's Hard Ink Series, currently on the last book in the original series, and I still love it. Her characterization is really something to study, as well as her inclusion of diverse characters. I've learned so, so much from reading and listening to her books, and I really recommend her.

I'm also reading Paradise Beneath Her Feet, which is a non-fic text about feminism in The Middle East. I think it's really, really important to be constantly expanding my interests into fields I know less about. It helps with research and widens the inspirations pool.

Other loves of my life, Eloisa James, Sophie Jordan, Maya Banks, Kiera Cass, Diana Gabaldon.


What's your favorite "guilty pleasure" as a writer? Favorite drink? Snack? Locale to write?
I'm really easily distracted. If I think I'll be cute and spend the day writing at the local Starbucks, I'm really going to waste a day people-watching at the local Starbucks. That being said, I'm a tea and coffee sucker, so I might take an hour and walk into town for a break. I love chocolate-covered espresso beans, but I'm trying really hard to be good, so mostly oranges, blueberries, other fruits that feel like candy.


How has your real life affected the stories or characters you write?
As I said above, I studied journalism in college, and that had a huge impact on how I go about writing fiction. Journalism, as its core, is the telling of human stories – tragic, beautiful, challenging, exciting. It broadened my understanding of how stories are formed and how people interact during the best and worst times of their lives. It also helped me to 'interview' my characters when I'm getting to know them.
One of my favorite real-life impact stories is from a WIP about an art thief living in Amsterdam. I studied art history throughout high school and college, especially focusing on it when I studied abroad in the Netherlands. Amsterdam is an amazing and rich city, and having spent time there, especially in the museums, I got to have a lot of fun placing the story in the heart of the city. I drew on my art history education, as well as learning a lot more for the book.


What project are you currently working on?
The above story is the second one in a series. Originally I thought the books were novella length, but after the second one ended up being 10k longer than the first, and the third 10k longer than the second, I realized that the books were more suited to full-length novels. I've been revisiting the first two finish products and now I'm revamping the whole series, better fleshing out the individual characters and expanding the overarching storyline. I learned a lot about ensemble writing from Laura Kaye, and I hope I can use some of those lessons moving forward.


What’s next for you?
Always writing! I write under two pen names, so I usually have some project or other in the works. Just sent in a full-length novel – one of a trilogy – for my editor to review. I have a new historical novella with The Wild Rose Press, also one of three, that I'm currently editing. I really love this book. It's about a pirate queen mercenary, which is essentially all I've ever wanted to be. I think the next book I'll be starting from scratch, rather than editing, will be book two in that series.

Book Interview

Tell us a little about your new release, The Adventurous Heart.
Where did your inspiration for the book come from?
This was the third book in The Royal Rakes Collection, and I was really excited to push Georgina's story way out of the realm of the comfortable. I had an image in my mind as to what Andrea looked like, and the rest sort of fell into place after that.


Describe one piece of research you did for the book.
So much history about buried treasure the Spanish Main and explorers! That's the most fun kind of research! I learned a lot about actual pirates, and I used the name and treasure of a real pirate, lost to the sands of time. As you might be able to tell, I really like pirate lore, so this story brought a lot of romanticism and adventure with it.

Do you write with music? What are some of the songs that informed the tenor of your newest release?
Get it away! As I said before, I'm super easily distracted. If it's a necessity, I can write to music without lyrics. One of my recent stories was a modern Paris love story, so I had some jazzy background when there were people over the house. This story, The Adventurous Heart, I could have written with The Pirates of the Caribbean or some other epic soundtrack, but I'd really just prefer quiet. I guess that's just how I'm wired.


What’s next for this story - is it part of a series? When does it come out?
Woo-hoo! This is book three. The whole series, A Duel of Hearts and To Marry a Captain, came out in fall of last year. I have a soft spot in my heart for these characters, but I'm really looking forward to concentrating on full-length works from now on.

Author Bio:
Holland Rae is the author of several works of erotic and romantic fiction in both the contemporary and historical genres, and enjoys pushing the limits of freedom, feminism, and fun in her stories.  She has been an avid writer for many years, and recently moved back to her home state of New Jersey from Boston, after completing her education in journalism and creative writing.
In her free time, she loves to travel, and spent several months living in a 14th century castle in the Netherlands. When not exploring the world, she likes dreaming up stories, eating spicy food, driving fast cars, and talking to strangers.



Social Links:
Keep up with Holland on her Amazon page.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

What's the Deal with the Cliffhanger?

You want to know a secret? Even if if makes you a little mad at me? All right, I'll tell you:

I wrote the cliffhanger on purpose. I write cliffhangers because I actually like them.

*blocks face with hands*

I know, I know. It's frustrating to becoming really invested in what's happening to a story or characters and then have a major bomb dropped on you at the end of the story. But let's be real, too: the way the story ended before the major "bomb" in Legally Yours wasn't exactly a "happy-ever-after", was it? I mean, that's definitely not how you'd want that story to end. It's not how I want the story to end.

But you know what else I dislike? I dislike becoming that invested in characters only to have their story end forever after only 200-300 pages. Or, in the case of Legally Yours, 500. Romance novels are  quick and easy to read. They're like candy, the kind you sneak late at night. You stay up until three AM, reading in the dark on your phone or your Kindle, paging through because you just. have. to. know: what happens next? So if it takes me less than a few days to get through it...yeah. I'm going to want more than just that.

My favorite books of ALL genres are the ones that are let me luxuriate with the characters for at least a week, maybe two. Maybe even months. I like my romances long, and I like them to continue long enough to really see my favorite characters grow. The fact that a book is part of a legitimate series, even if it's  not done yet, is a selling point for me, not a deterrent. Serials that cycle through the various "stories" of different character in the original book don't count.

Jodi Ellen Malpas does a great job of this in the This Man series and the One Night series. I haven't read The Protector yet, but I'm sure I'll love it too. I adore Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series as much for the detail and escape factors as for the fact that I get almost ten-thousand pages and counting of Jamie and Claire's story together.

Other writers who do this well: K.A. Linde, Heather C. Leigh, Nicole Williams, Laurelin Paige, S.C. Stephens, Rebecca Donovan, and, of course, E.L. James (I have some issues with FSOG, but that's for another post. I can't deny that I have read it several times). There are others I can think of, but these are the writers whose work is at the top of my list.

So when I asked myself what kind of stories I wanted to write, it became pretty clear when I started sketching out my first project that it was going to take multiple books to get through it. I get that it's annoying to be left hanging, but for me, the series are the books I reread. They are the stories I come back to, like old friends. There's enough in them that I can rediscover elements of the characters I'd forgotten about, enough complications that I won't immediately recall everything when I pick up the book again. I've read all of the authors listed above multiple times, and I can't always say that about all of the other romance writers I enjoy.

So here's the bright side: the next book is definitely coming out, and you'll get your fix soon enough. Legally Yours will be a trilogy; I've had that planned out for over a year. The second book is well on its way to being finished, and the third has already been started. I'd like to have the series completed by the end of the summer (although that might be a bit optimistic, so we'll see). I also have two other trilogies planned and partially drafted as well. There will be a lot to keep you busy.

My characters are complicated. Romance is fantasy, for sure, but that doesn't mean the characters shouldn't be three-dimensional. Writing those dimensions takes time. So, what do you think? Are these characters you'd want to stay with for while?