Friday, 30 June 2017

Alicia Dean on Africa, Romance and Acacia Trees!

Welcome to Alicia Dean, one of six authors featuring in ESCAPE TO AFRICA, an anthology of romantic suspense stories to be released as an ebook on July 14th and print book on July 15th. This is the third anthology by the World Romance Writers, and I am delighted to have stories in the first anthology and Escape to Africa too.

Let your wild side free and Escape to Africa! Come along on an adventure through these 6 stories brought to you by 6 best-selling, award-winning authors.
You’ll uncover tales of an undercover operative in Casablanca, a safari guide in the Serengeti, students on holiday in Morocco, time-traveling agents in Tripoli, vengeance in Algeria, and deadly secrets in Carthage. Each of these stories will captivate you with love, danger, intrigue, and excitement. What better way to Escape?

Hello Alicia, and welcome. Can you tell us a little about your story?

Of course. The story is called Dying to Love You. Here is the blurb:

After dying for the third time, unloved and unlovable Autumn Baines is running out of chances to avoid purgatory. For her latest life, she’s sent to the Serengeti, where she’ll have to perform a selfless act and find someone to love her. She sees her chance with the arrival of widowed father Logan McBride and his teen daughter.
Faced with an opportunity to make a tremendous sacrifice, she’ll have to decide…can she forego her eternal happiness to give them theirs?

What an intriguing storyline! What went through your mind when you agreed to take part in the anthology?

When I agreed to write a story in Africa, I was a bit intimidated. I was unfamiliar with the continent, and to be honest, uninterested. I knew I wanted a place where safari tours were available, and I landed on the Serengeti. I set about researching and my apathy soon became amazement.

You must have done a lot of research. What interesting facts did you come across?

I learned all sorts of interesting facts about the people, the animals, and even the plant life. Some of the facts made it into the story, others did not. One fascinating tidbit that I really wanted to use, but couldn’t make work, was about the Castor Bean plant. Many West African tribes used the poisonous beans from the plant as a lie detector for handing down decisions in court. The accused would be fed numerous beans. If God miraculously allowed them to live, it meant they were innocent. If they died (which I imagine was the most common outcome), that would ‘prove’ they were witches or possessed by demons. Uh, yeah, that sounds fair.   I still might use it one of these days… Uh, in a story, not on a person. J

One tidbit I did mention in the story, which I thought was fascinating, was about the acacia tree. This is taken directly from my story, the best way to explain. J

Its hook-shaped thorns act as a deterrent against grazers. Despite the thorns, some herbivores still feed on the trees. The trees can release a toxin known as tannin, which can be lethal to animals if ingested. Acacia trees also have another chemical defense system, whereby they release a chemical called ethylene, which ‘warns’ other acacias in the vicinity. Within fifteen minutes, all the neighboring trees increase the tannin levels in their leaves, making the area unappetizing to tree-grazing animals. Giraffes tend to eat downwind from the trees, in the hope that the trees do not alarm each other. They usually only graze for a short time before moving on to the next tree.
Acacia Tree
Trees warning one another? Didn’t God create an incredible world?

That's absolutely fascinating indeed! Thank you very much, Alicia, for being my guest today.
ESCAPE TO AFRICA is available for pre-order at the special price of £0.99  here

Friday, 23 June 2017

Round Robin: The importance of researching characters...

Thank you so much for including me in your 'round robin' this month to talk about June's topic: How do you go about developing your characters for a story? How much time do you spend or does it just happen in the writing process? What inspires it?

I write romance, which is a character-driven genre. For me, the most important in a romance novel is the characters, the conflict and the chemistry between them. If readers care about your heroine and fall in love with your hero (or vice-versa!), then they'll want to turn the pages to find out what happens to them, and how they overcome challenges to find happiness together. If your characters aren't believable or endearing enough, then you run the risk of losing your reader, no matter how exciting your plot, that's why it is so important to spend some time thinking about the characters and developing their personality, their background, and motivations.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay
What makes an endearing heroine? You may be tempted to turn her into the kind of woman who trips over every five minutes, keeps blurting out silly comments or believes every lie people tell her. Or into a weak, self-pitying one you want to shake when she gets taken advantage of again. Or again portray her as a harsh, uncaring, and ambitious woman who will trample all over others to get at what she wants. Characters, like people, are complex. It's all right for a heroine to be distracted or have a few silly moments, or to appear cold and unfeeling at times, as long as her she has good reasons to be like that.

Her moods, and the way she reacts to events are down to her background and the past experiences which shaped her personality, as is her ultimate goal, which will become apparent as the story unfolds.

What about the hero? In a romance novel, heroes have to be confident and successful, although that doesn't necessarily mean rich - I personally have had enough of billionaires! I mean, how many of them are there around? He too has a story, a secret buried deep in his past which made him what he is today. He doesn't have to handsome, but he needs to have a strong presence. He must be someone the heroine, and the reader of course, can fall in love with. You don't have to describe him in detail - the reader needs to form their own impression of him, by seeing how he moves, listening to his voice, and feeling his anger or his ambition.

I remember once attending a romance writing workshop and the tutor saying in a very dismissing way that no reader could possibly dream about a man dressed in a cardigan holding the heroine's hand whilst gazing at the stars. Really? Since then (that was a few years ago), cardigans have become quite fashionable for young hipster men, and what's wrong with holding hands whilst looking at a summer night sky?

Although I am by nature what is called a 'pantser', I always have a good idea about what happened in my characters' life to shape their personality and make them what they are, and that involves carrying out some basic research.

One of the books I regularly re-read is 'On Writing Romance' by the brilliant Leigh Michaels. She advises writers to compile lists about their hero and heroine. For example, what is their worst nightmare or what would their dream holiday be? What are their most important material possessions, why, or what would they save if they could only rescue one thing from a fire? (actually that reminds me of one of my favourite films - Leap Year). What would they like to change about themselves - and the world? What are their favourite foods and drinks? What do they like to wear, not to wear? What job do they have, or what is their ideal job? And the list goes on.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay
Often, the basic research into my characters starts with finding the perfect name. I look through lists of names from different geographical areas over different periods until I find the name that clicks. The surnames too have to be consistent with my characters' personality. I will confess here that one of my secret resources for finding surnames are maps, especially maps of Dorset and Somerset, where hamlets and villages often have unusual and often poetic names, perfect for my characters' surname. I love maps!

I realised recently that many of my villains had surnames starting with 'M' - Malleval, Mortemer, Morven, Melville (all name places, by the way!) - although I'm not sure what that means...I once received a critical review of my very first historical romance, Angel Heart, from a reader who complained that my protagonists' name were 'too French', 'too complicated' and too 'old-fashioned'! Well, the characters were French, and the story was set in the early nineteenth century. I couldn't call them Sharon, Mike or Bailey, could I? Yet I supposed the reader had a point. If you can't pronounce your hero or heroine's name, or if they sound too exotic, you might be put off...

Finding names is all very well, but what about the setting of the story, or your characters' living space? Unfortunately it's not always possible to visit the setting of the story, walk through an old cottage or a manor house, and get that 'first-hand' experience of the place.

Lovely fountain in Provence
My hometown Lyon, France
I can say that out of all the settings for my novels and short stories, the only ones I have personal experience of was Provence where I used to holiday as a child, and where I have returned since with my children, and Lyon where I am from originally.

I therefore find the internet invaluable. I love Google Earth, real estate websites, YouTube clips of towns or tourist sites, and television programmes I can watch at leisure on my laptop. I also listen to music from the area where my story is set to get in the mood. While writing my historical romance The Lion's Embrace I listened to Tuareg and Algerian music, and it was wonderful.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay
And when writing my Dancing for the Devil Trilogy, which is set in Scotland, I had Scottish folk songs on all the time. In fact, that's how I found the titles of the three short books that form the trilogy: The Dream Catcher, Blue Bonnets and Sword Dance, which are titles of traditional Highland dances.  
Photo courtesy of Pixabay
The first purchases I make when I start a new novel are always a road map and a good travel guide of the area where the story is set. I love maps...did I mention that already?

To conclude, I can say that I find research essential, useful and incredibly enjoyable - too enjoyable at times. I often find anecdotes which send me to a totally different direction than the one I had planned originally. I am also aware of my limitations and the last thing I want is to get some important detail so wrong that I will lose all credibility with readers.

I hope you enjoyed reading my post. Please click on the links below to visit the blogs taking part in the Round Robin!