Guest Post: Would You Take Real Advice From A Fictional Character?

Can you actually learn something useful from fiction? Or does the responsibility for imparting knowledge sit solely in the arena of its non-fiction cousins?

A story’s purpose is to transport you to a different time and place, to inspire, to entertain, enlighten and challenge. But how do you feel about a novel where a character jumps off the page, gets in your face and is determined to teach you a thing or two? Do you dismiss it as the author taking creative license through the ramblings of an imaginary character with no discernible connection to reality or do you consider it as a potential source of useful advice? I guess what I’m asking is, “Would you take real advice from a fictional character?”

In the new novel, eloves me, eloves me not, the protagonist, Kayte Wexford, sets out on a journey to find Mr. Right, venturing into the unfamiliar world of online dating. At the urging of her happily married best friend Chloe, Kayte agrees to try it. Kayte also learns that her other dear friend Roman considers himself a bit of an online dating aficionado. He’s used it for years and is pretty familiar with the ins and outs – what works and what doesn’t. In fact, he might even be described as a serial online dater. So Roman quickly steps in to guide and mentor Kayte, providing her with tips, suggestions, and rules from his personal rule book (Roman’s Rules of Online Dating) to help her maximize her potential for her online dating success.

When writing this book, I went back and forth as to whether I would feature Roman and his rules so prominently.  I considered whether or not including them muddied the fiction waters. I did end up leaving them in because I thought that they added a dimension of authenticity to the story, to Roman as a character, and they provided the reader with some lasting advice that may well stick with them long after the details of the story are forgotten.

Here is just a small selection of the advice espoused through Roman’s Rules of Online Dating:
  • While the words you use to present yourself are important, there is nothing more critical in your profile than the photo. 
  • Have at least 2-3 chats with someone before meeting them.
  • Make sure a friend, colleague, neighbour, someone you trust knows the details of your meeting.
  • If you’ve been on the site for a few weeks (or months), you may need to refresh your profile to get noticed.
  • Once you’ve met and been on a date or two, or three, you need to be wary of the return to the cyber relationship. 
Roman shares 13 rules in total with Kayte throughout the novel, delivering them one at a time and only as she needs to learn them. Her experiences then help to contextualise them. You’ll find the full list and their detailed explanations scattered throughout the novel and in list form on the book’s websiteIf you’re curious about trying online dating or have actually done it, see if they resonate with you.
Regardless of your thoughts on online dating, how do you feel about an author taking this approach - injecting lessons, tips, and hints into their fictional stories? What other examples can you point to where you’ve actually been both entertained and informed by a novel? Would you like to see more or less of this in novels of the future?

In delivering real advice through a fictional character, is there a risk of challenging the definition of fiction and having it appear too real? Or do you feel it adds authenticity and depth to a story that helps to better engage the reader?

Giveaway! Please leave a comment to enter to win 1 of 2 eBook copies of eloves me, eloves me not. Winner will be chosen at random on Friday, May 3rd. Please include your email address or social networking account so we can get in touch if you win. Good luck! 

Author Guest Post: Dreams Take On A Life of Their Own by Sue Moorcroft

When I was preparing to write Dream a Little Dream, I knew a couple of things. I knew that the heroine was Liza Reece, who readers would already have met in All That Mullarkey as the sister of Cleo. Liza was just too naughty and fun to leave in Secondary Characterland. And I knew that Liza, a reflexologist, would meet Dominic when he was dragged unwillingly to a reflexology treatment with something he was pretty certain reflexology wouldn’t help at all. I didn’t know what the ‘something’ would be.

Then random chance took a hand. I was in an online conversation about titles with a writing buddy and, speaking about a family situation, he said, "Life’s not a dream." Even as I typed, "Dream! That would be a great word to have in one of my titles," the idea flashed into my head to give Dominic the rare sleep disorder narcolepsy. Had I realised then what a complex, frustrating and fantastical condition narcolepsy is, I think I would have chosen something easier!

Researching Liza was comparatively easy. I found a reflexologist online, who also was a tutor, and lay back and let her fingers work their magic over several sessions, talked to her via email, and visited a batch of her students on their final training day. No hardship!

Researching Dominic… Much. Harder. I kept reading the same superficial information. I knew I wasn’t getting a handle on this thing so I began looking for case histories. This led me to two fantastic research sources, Narcolepsy UK and The Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine in California. Then, breakthrough: I joined the forum on Narcolepsy UK, outlined my project, asked for someone who’d help me and said my hero was called Dominic, was in his thirties, and had narcolepsy. After five kind replies from people of the wrong age/gender/both, I received: "I had to reply. My name’s Dominic, I’m in my thirties and have narcolepsy with cataplexy!" He became my major source of research and answered a thousand questions with apparent good humour. If you want to read an interview with Real Dominic it’s here.

So, without ever starting out with the intention, I found myself writing what you might term a ‘damaged hero.’ Damaged heroes are fascinating because they have to be stronger than others – and having a challenge doesn’t affect their hot sexiness at all. Dominic Christy, busy reinventing himself after his diagnosis, has to manage his slightly flaky cousin Miranda who wants to help just a touch too much for his masculine pride, but he has energy left over to pursue Liza.

Liza is little and feisty and has decided that she’s not to be trusted in a relationship, so it’s easiest to keep out of them, even with Dominic who looks like a young Kevin Costner and has a dog that skateboards. Liza has a dream, to take over the holistic treatment centre where she works – but, unfortunately, Dominic’s new dream conflicts with it. So if he gets his, she won’t get hers, and vice versa. All I had to do was hurl those factors into my imagination together with Dominic’s narcolepsy – and Dream a Little Dream came out. A Proud Mama moment.

Sue Moorcroft writes romantic novels of dauntless heroines and irresistible heroes. Dream a Little Dream was nominated for a RoNA in the Contemporary Romantic Fiction category, and the Best Romantic Read Award 2012, which her earlier novel Love & Freedom won in 2011. Sue is a Katie Fforde Bursary Award winner, has written a how-to book, short stories, serials, articles and courses, edited two anthologies and is a competition judge. Visit Sue's website and blog for more information. 

Author Guest Post: Getting Inspiration From Movies

A good book should have you visualising the plot unfolding in your mind, as though you’re watching a movie, and every writer strives to achieve a rich sensory experience for the reader. Watching movies can be a good way of inspiring writers to create visual and emotional scenes that evoke a strong image in the reader’s mind. They can remind writers to focus on the different senses in a scene - What is the character seeing? What sounds are there? With writing we have only words, but those words have the power to become much more.

I find if I’m stuck with my writing, taking some time to watch a movie can help restart my enthusiasm and remind me of all the little details that can enrich a scene; the setting, the colours, the atmosphere, the facial expressions, the weather, the actions... And good movies with emotional storylines remind me of how powerful fiction can be in stimulating certain emotions. You’d think because it’s fiction we wouldn’t be affected emotionally, but the brain doesn’t differentiate clearly between what it sees and what it imagines. It’s known that watching certain events - real or fake - can stimulate specific parts of the brain and create emotional responses in the body.

A helpful tip when writing certain types of scenes is to watch an example in a movie. So if you want to write a car chase scene, then it could be helpful to watch the car chase scenes out of a movie such as The Bourne Identity. Take notice of how it’s done, press pause and slow motion, and note down what is happening involving all of the senses. The types of books I write are not that likely to involve car chases though, so for me, I’d be more inclined to watch examples of kissing scenes, arguments, funny moments, and heart-wrenching moments. If a scene in a movie has triggered strong emotions in me, I like to take note of what it was about it that caused that reaction. Was it the subject matter? Or the way it was communicated through the actor, such as their bodily reactions and facial expressions? Then I can try and do a similar thing in my writing.

Movies can also help writers with the pacing of their story. Movies have a much more rigid structure than books, and there are certain turning points in the story that almost always occur around the same times, so if you want to get really academic, you can try watching a movie and jotting down each of the turning points and roughly when they occurred. This can help you to see what the main plot points are and how you can replicate this pacing in your own story. Movies are, of course, different to books though, so this is only a way to guide you.

Characters in movies can also help in the creation of your own characters. Think about characters that stood out for you in various movies... why did they stand out? What made them unique? You can flesh out your book characters in the same way.

Some movies I’ve enjoyed that I kept in mind while writing my book, Fast Forward, were 13 Going On 30/Suddenly 30, 17 Again, and Big. Although I didn’t try to replicate anything in particular, they were a general inspiration for the ‘feel’ of the book I wanted to write - something that was both humorous and heartwarming. So if you’re a writer, next time you’re stuck, pop on a DVD and get inspired! :)
Aspiring supermodel Kelli Crawford seems destined to marry her hotshot boyfriend, but on her twenty-fifth birthday, she wakes in the future as a fifty-year-old suburban housewife married to the now middle-aged high school nerd. Trapped in the opposite life of the one she wanted, Kelli is forced to re-evaluate her life and discover what is really important to her. Will she overcome the hilarious and heartbreaking challenges presented to her and get back to the body of her younger self? Or will she be stuck in the nightmare of hot flushes, demanding children, raunchy advances from her husband, and hideous support underwear forever?
Buy FAST FORWARD: Escape Publishing, Amazon, Amazon UK, iTunes, Kobo.

GIVEAWAY #1: To be entered to win a $25 Amazon gift card, forward your purchase receipt to
GIVEAWAY #2: To be entered to win a $50 Amazon gift card or the runner up prize of a $25 gift card, leave a comment on this post with your email address. Comment on other blogs during Juliet’s February blog tour for more entries into the drawing! Winners will be chosen on March 1st.

Connect with Juliet: Website, Blog, Facebook, Twitter.

Author Guest Post: Most Romantic Places for Dates

A romantic place doesn’t have to be a city. It can be a beautiful spot where you have gone walking with your other half; the glens of western Scotland;  a location where you shared a special moment, perhaps your first kiss; outside the front door of your house - the memory of the day you moved into your first home together; in front of a log fire, with  your partner, dressed or undressed, at home or in a country lodge!

But for the most romantic country, it’s hard to beat Italy. I know France has Paris, but for me, Venice is more romantic, with the feeling that you’ve stepped back 200 years. After Venice, you have the rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside. I have friends who got married there, and I can totally understand why, even if they did have to have their wedding translated! And let’s not forget Juliet’s balcony in Verona - it still oozes romance, even if it is a tad touristy.

I recall being on holiday in Goa in India and taking a 2-night trip away to a more southernly part of the island. As we were so far from civilisation, the sky was unpolluted and was littered with stars. I remember lying in a boat (on land) watching the stars. Idyllic and very romantic.

Brazil or anywhere that practices sexy Latin American dancing. I don’t watch Strictly or Dancing on Ice or any of these reality programmes, but I do appreciate the real thing. I’ve been to Brazil a few times, and the way the Brazilians move is tantalising, sexy and very romantic.

The most romantic tourist attraction for me has to be a castle. And not just because I’m Scottish! If I were to get married, I would like to get married in a castle (not asking much, am I?!). Culzean Castle in Ayrshire, Scotland would be a contender. But for me, the most romantic castle has to be Eilean Donan castle, before you cross to the Isle of Skye.

Most romantic restaurant - usually Italian, where the owner or waiter comes and asks you what food you like and then they simply bring you food, without you ordering. Very intimate, very personal. Always small - even better if your other half arranges for a restaurant to close so you are the only two diners, or as has been seen in several movies, the rooftop of a building, done up as a restaurant.

Most romantic outdoor activity - flying across the country in a hot air balloon. I still haven’t done this, and since I’m now pregnant, am not going to be doing it any time soon, but one day! I did want to do this on the Masai Mara, but had a fear of the balloon coming down and being eaten by lions!

Most romantic hotel I’ve stayed in - a French chateau in the Loire Valley. It presided over the tiny village, offered the most amazing meals and had genuine Louis XVI furniture, as well as a four poster waterbed!

Most romantic beach holiday destination - it has to be Bora Bora (I’ve still never been, but am dying to go). Closely followed by the Maldives (I’ve still never been there either!).

Most romantic outdoor vacation - wild camping in Scotland (although I am sure other places would serve equally well). A good stock of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc wine, a fishing rod (for other half to use - although I did catch 3 fish, too - my first ever attempt), a good book, to sit by the lochside and read until darkness falls, whilst sipping wine, and a half decent tent to safeguard you from the elements. NB: downside: insects and no en suite bathroom! Also, make sure you have plenty of snacks, as if you get rained off, and have to snuggle inside the tent, you can’t use your stove! Pringles and chocolate come in really handy...

But I suppose the bottom line is you can be in the most ‘romantic’ place in the world, but if you’re not there with the right person...
Susan Buchanan is the author of two books, The Dating Game, about a workaholic recruitment consultant, who hasn't had much luck in the love stakes so far, so she decides to join a dating agency for professional people, and Sign of the Times, a contemporary romantic drama based mainly in Scotland and Italy. Susan currently resides in Central Scotland. 

Author Guest Post: Top Chick Picks from Classic Lit

This is not a list of my favorite female characters from classic literature, but rather a list of fab characters who’d be right at home in a modern day chick lit novel. Hence, the absence of Hester Prynne, Emma Bovary, Anna Karenina and such. Even Jane Eyre, who is one of my all-time faves, didn’t make the cut, because I don’t think she’d fly in today’s glossy fiction unless the author gave her a personality makeover, and we couldn’t have that! Okay. With no further ado, here’s my list in no particular order:

Countess Ellen Olenska

Edith Wharton’s delightful character, Ellen Olenska, was decades ahead of her time. Strong-willed and free-spirited, she flees an abusive relationship and bucks society norms left and right, happily hanging with folks from the lower classes and treating everyone like equals. She’s got a strong moral code, too. Instead of destroying her cousin’s marriage, she turns her back on true love.

Flora Poste

Stella Gibbons created a hilarious busybody in Flora Poste. Armed with her Bible (a fictional book called The Higher Common Sense), she sets out to straighten out the lives of the distant relatives she’s gone to live with at the gloomy and isolated Cold Comfort Farm. Naturally, she’s met with resistance from these relations who don’t know her from Adam, but no-nonsense Flora cannot be deterred.

Becky Sharp

Love her or hate her, William Thackeray’s Becky Sharp is a magnetic character. Of course everyone loves her at first – plucky little gal that she is, picking herself up by her bootstraps and all. As the story unfolds, her climb up the social ladder starts to seem like an unhealthy obsession, and some of her antics border on the sadistic. Still, she’s a fascinating character to follow.

Scarlett O’Hara

Like Becky Sharp, Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlett O’Hara may rub some readers the wrong way. She’s vain and selfish, and a bit ruthless at times. However, Scarlett’s strong will and determination to save or to rebuild Tara no matter the cost is admirable. And you have to admire her badassery. I found this great quote from Roger Ebert: “…The difference between [Emma] Bovary and O’Hara is how they react to misfortune… Emma kills herself, while Scarlett plants potatoes.” Love it!

Elizabeth Bennet

Jane Austen’s universally loveable character is intelligent, sensible, and highly principled. But lest it sounds like I’m describing a goody-goody, I must point out that she’s also witty, charming and playful. She’s not without faults, though. And thank goodness for that. Elizabeth’s own prejudices, coupled with her tendency to make snap judgments and speak her mind before thinking things through, nearly costs her the love of her life (you know who).

Jo March

Louisa May Alcott’s Jo March is one of a kind. Outspoken, tomboyish, and a bit of a rebel, she’s got an endearingly geeky quality that readers can’t help but love. In recent years, I’ve learned that many critics question Jo’s gender identity and sexuality. There is, in fact, some pretty strong evidence to suggest that Jo is a lesbian and/or transgendered. Could Alcott have been the first author of popular literary fiction to create such a revolutionary character? I have to reread Little Women.

Helen Schlegel

In a way, E.M. Forster’s memorable character, Helen Schlegel, is a sort of amalgamation of several characters I’ve just mentioned. Like Flora Poste, she’s resolved to “fix” things for others. Like Scarlett O’Hara, she’s selfish and narrow-sighted. And like Jo March, she rebels against society’s conventions. Helen is a bit of a mess, no doubt, but her idealism and her passions are what won me over. I just love those dramatic diatribes of hers when she goes on about social injustices and the like.

And there you have it. Seven chicks from classic lit who’d be right at home sipping Manhattans in a pair of Choos – either plotting to fix your love life, making plans to take over the company or getting ready to throw off their clothes and run naked through the halls of Congress.

Fresh from a career-killing scandal, New York fashion girl, Maya Kirkwood, arrives in San Francisco to reinvent herself as a fine artist. She's offered the opportunity to create an installation at the Silicon Valley headquarters of a hot new tech company. Fabulous, right? Not so much. She can't stand Derek Whitley - wunderkind software genius and CEO of the company. Hot as he may be on the outside, inside the man is a cold, unemotional, robotic type. Way too left-brained for her right-brained self. As Maya and Derek get to know each other, however, their facades begin to crack. She catches her first glimpse of the man behind the superhuman tech prodigy, and he starts to see her as the woman she used to be. But is this a good thing? Once that last secret is revealed, will it bring them closer together or will it tear them apart?