A writing lesson from the Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Cindi Page author writing tips

I can’t believe I waited this long to watch my first spaghetti Western! My Beloved, took me on a date, and we watched the Clint Eastwood classic, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly at a one-of-a-kind rooftop cinema in the middle of Cape Town. I kinda loved it. It came with margaritas, a picnic and a love seat, so I was one happy lady.

Having never watched a cowboy movie before, I had no idea what to expect, but what I definitely was not prepared for, was being reminded of a thing or two about great writing.

Here are the top three writing tips I took away from movie.

Defining characters clearly, makes them memorable

What was Clint Eastwood’s character’s name? No idea? Well, that’s because no-one ever calls him by his name, but he is referred to, more than once, as Blondie. In fact, in the credits, he is listed as ‘character with no name’. Brilliant! Other great ways to make  your characters more memorable is by giving them an accent  or a speech impediment, or a repetitive habit. When I think of memorable characters, I quickly recall Death in Terry Pratchett’s book, because he always spoke in CAPS. And Yoda? What I mean, you see.

Conveying expression without dialogue is powerful

I think that’s what surprised me the most, the long stretches in the film without dialogue. There were many close up shots of faces, from which the actor’s expression told the audience what he has thinking. See what I mean in the clip below.

 

In writing this technique is as important and often overlooked. We forget, as writers, that 95% of communication is non-verbal. For example, instead of spelling out that a character is anxious or nervous, that emotion could be conveyed with a description of him drumming his fingers on the table, or his eyes darting around the room.

Everybody loves a bit of poetic justice

Not only was the story great, the ending served up some delicious poetic justice. The Ugly one, Tuco, got exactly what he wanted, the gold, but was left in the desert by himself with no ride out, so what good would it be? Loads of memorable stories do exactly the same. As a writer, we get to “take revenge” on a bad character, and give them what they deserve, without detracting from our hero’s victory. Roald Dahl did this so well in ‘Danny, Champion of the World’ when the nasty Mr Hazell’s expensive car was over-run by his very own pheasants.

So, as it turns out, I’m even thinking about writing on date night. But I really did enjoy the film and the company of my Beloved too:-)

Now back to work! I’m so close to finishing the final book in the Full Circle series!!

Cindi Page Author

 

 

 

Feature image credit from Cultjer.

Author 2 Author Interview…chatting to local sensation JT Lawrence

JT LAWRENCE Grey magic interview with cindi page

As a newbie to the Indie-author scene, it can be pretty daunting to come across someone like JT Lawrence. Janita Thiele Lawrence is a Joburg based author – and mother of 3. Not only does she write, she is also owns a book dealership, Pulp Books.  Janita and I frequent the same online writers group and I’m always just in plain awe of how hard she works and how driven she is. When Janita asked who in the group would be keen to read her new novel, I signed up. Mainly, I just had to know what her writing was like. And WOW – I didn’t just read Grey Magic, I gobbled it up over a weekend and fell in love with a female witch! Seriously, I have not had this hard a crush on a paranormal character since Edward in the Twilight series.

After reading Grey Magic, I knew I just had to get to know JT better. I invited her to be interviewed for my blog, and as always, it’s a treat to talk to other writers about their work.

CP: I loved GREY MAGIC so much! What inspired the story?

JT: I’m so glad! I’ve always loved the idea of everyday magic, and am fascinated by modern-day witches (and horrified by stories of witch hunts, past and present). I wrote a short story to explore the idea of a witch who lives by her own set of morals, who isn’t dictated to by others, and enjoyed it so much that it turned into a novel.

CP: Raven is such a chaotic and complicated mess, with the best of intentions, and yet…she constantly finds herself in trouble (from all sides), in what way can you identify with Raven?

JT: Like Raven, I try to live by my own rules and subvert the status quo when it’s not working for me. Forging a career in indie publishing is part of that disruption: when I realised that gatekeepers were keeping me from my dream job of being an author, I decided to make my own way through the porthole. Regarding Raven being a hot mess, well, life is chaotic and complicated, isn’t it? And I wouldn’t have it any other way!

CP: I loved the plot line of the connection between Raven’s grandmother, who was also a witch and th e priest – will there be a second book exploring that?

JT: I’m planning a 5-book series for Grey Magic, a book for each element. I have a feeling we’ll definitely be revisiting their relationship.

CP: What scene in the book did you have the most satisfaction writing?

JT: The ending! It was a such a relief that (most) people survived. I also loved writing the Viking and Medieval past lives. I’d never tried writing any kind of historical fiction before and I really enjoyed it.

CP: Tell me about how you did your research for the book?

JT: I read loads of books on witches, and the history and practice of witchcraft. The most interesting of all was ‘The Spiral Dance’ by Starhawk which I found absolutely fascinating. I identified with so much in the book, especially her special brand of feminism, which is inherent to neopagan beliefs.

CP: Do have a book playlist, like some authors do?

JT: I listen to white noise while I write, for minimum distraction. Rain or thunderstorms, depending on my mood.

CP: So do I! This one is my favourite:

CP: How does it feel, knowing your book is such a sensation on Amazon?

JT: It’s wonderful! When Amazon chose it as a Hot New Release I was absolutely thrilled. Still kind of pinching myself now as it continues to sell. Talk about everyday magic!

CP: When you are not writing, what kind of books do you like reading?

JT: I read everything. I especially love books that feed my brain: interesting facts, new perspectives, or just plain delicious storylines.

JT LAWRENCE Grey magic interview with cindi page

CP: Tell  me about the cover design (I know there’s a story behind this).

JT: Last year I was completely over committed: I tend to set almost near impossible deadlines so that I can meet my ambitious publishing schedule. I also run a business and have three kids under 5! So I had a deadline and a new baby and serious sleep-dep so my secret weapon (my husband) offered to design the cover for me. He’s a talented man!

CP: Any new projects on the horizon?

JT: I’m relaunching my futuristic thriller, ‘Why You Were Taken’, at the end of the month, then releasing the sequel, ‘How We Found You’, in May. The SABC has optioned it for a radio serial so I’ll be working on that, too. I’m busy planning the third book in the series and I’m starting to get excited/terrified, as I always do before a first draft. As for Raven Kane, I’d like to write four more in the series, a book for each element (and there are five in wicca).

GET A FREE COPY OF  HER BOOK ‘WHY YOU WERE TAKEN’

You can visit JT Lawrence’s website here – and take advantage of her free book offer!

CP: If you could be stuck in a lift with any author, who would it be? What would you dare ask?

JT: This is such a tough one! I guess it would have to be JK Rowling because I just admire her so much. I would ask her what her One True Thing is.

CP: Thank you for taking the time to chat to me! It was lovely getting to know you.

Reader, you can also stalk JT Lawrence on Facebook. I do 🙂 And if you want to get your hands on a copy of Grey Magic, check out Amazon.com here.

Cindi Page Author

Author to Author interview with romance writer Romy Sommer

Romy Sommer interview with cindi page

 

I chatted to South Africa’s first RITA nominee, Romy Summer about her short listed book, Not a Fairytale. She also indulged me, and answered some other questions about being a writer.

1. When did you realise that you are romance writer?

I wrote my first ‘practice’ novel many years ago after doing a writing cousre, and showed it to my

first critique partner, Mandy Verbaan. She was a loud and proud romance reader who told me I “had

a voice for Romance”. So I went off to the second hand book store and bought a pile of romance

novels to find out what she meant – and I promptly fell in love with the genre!

2. Do you recall the first story you ever wrote?

The same story I mentioned above, that ‘practice novel’, was more women’s fiction than romance. It

featured the interwoven stories of two very different women whose lives only crossed at the very

end. My writing at that stage was awful. I had no concept of character development or rising action

or conflict – but there’s still a gem of an idea in that story which I might one day explore!

The biggest achievement of that first story though was actually seeing it through to the end. Until

that moment I’d been a serial starter. I’d learned to play piano and guitar (can’t play a note of

either!), done tap dancing, ballet, figure skating, calligraphy, and a host of other hobbies I no longer

even remember – but writing was the first thing that I saw through to the end. And ten years later

I’m still obsessed with it!

3. Who was your favourite romance author while growing up?

I didn’t really read romances growing up (at least I didn’t think I did!) but I loved Georgette Heyer,

Mary Stewart – and of course the Sweet Valley High series!

4. You chair the Romance Writers Organisation of SA, how did that come about?

Mandy and I first tossed the idea of a romance writers group around over a Mugg & Bean breakfast.

When we started writing, it felt like we were the only two people in the whole country writing

Romance. Slowly we began to reach out to other writers, and along the way we experienced a fair

amount of disdain from writers in other genres. Having experienced first hand the generous support

of romance writers online and in other countries, we decided that South African romance writers

needed a safe place to hang out together, and so ROSA was born.

We started as an online Yahoo group with only a handful of members, then slowly more and more

romance writers came forward and joined, and now we’re a registered non-profit organisation

which the literary community is starting to take seriously. Because of course, Romance writers rock!

 

5. Describe the moment you heard you were nominated for the RITA.

The announcements were due to be made on a Friday, so I assumed shortlisted authors would be

notified on the Thursday. My kids were on school holidays and I’d taken the week off work to spend

time with them, so I spent that Thursday busy fetching and carrying kids. It stopped me from

obsessing over my inbox, and by the time I remembered what day it was I figured the silence meant I

hadn’t shortlisted. I shrugged it off and life carried on.

They next day we were all enjoying a lazy day at home, binge-watching Miss Fisher’s Murder

Mysteries, when I realised I hadn’t even looked at my cell phone in several hours. What if someone

from work had tried to contact me?

I had one missed call. From the States. I don’t know anyone in the States, at least no one who would

call me early on a Friday morning US time. I listened to the voice message already guessing what it

might be. It was Damon Suede, one of the RWA board members, calling me with the good news. I

was able to dance around the room, take it all in, then tell the kids to keep quiet so I could return

the call.

I remember pacing the front garden with the cell phone glued to my ear, managing to hold a very

rational, calm conversation with Damon while inside I was still screaming and dancing.

It was quite possibly one of the best days of my life so far!

6. Where did you get the idea of creating a character like Nina? And what do you love most

about her?

Nina was a very minor secondary character in my previous book To Catch a Star. Her hero, Dominic,

was also in the same book, but unlike Nina he wasn’t shy and retiring. He kept trying to write himself

a bigger part. So I realised of course he needed to get his own book.

But who would be a fitting heroine for a man who had every woman fall at his feet?

Then I realised that Nina, the voluptuous actress who hadn’t fallen for either Dom or his best friend

Christian (the hero of To Catch a Star) might be the one woman who would make him really work

for her heart.

What I love most about Nina is that she’s still just a normal girl behind the celebrity facade. She still

worries about what her Gran will think, finds high heels uncomfortable, and isn’t overly fond of

exercise. It’s this down-to- earth quality that makes Dom sit up and notice her. While he may have

been attracted to her looks at the beginning, it’s her willingness to get dirty and sweaty in order to

complete the challenge he sets her, which impresses him most.

7. What’s your favourite line / lines in the book?

I have quite a few moments in Not a Fairy Tale that make me smile, but perhaps my favourite is this

one:

Not a Fairytale Romy Sommer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8. Do you dream of fame?

Who doesn’t?! Actually, as much as I enjoy recognition for my writing, I’m in this for the money! If I

had to choose between fame and fortune, I’d definitely choose fortune.

9. Just tell me, did you have Alec Baldwin in mind when you wrote the character of Paul? 

Not at all. In fact, the actor I had in mind is probably Hollywood’s most confirmed bachelor:

Leonardo di Caprio. He even has Paul’s house in the Hollywood Hills and his hybrid car! (Though I’m

sure Mr di Caprio is much nicer in person than Paul)

10. The setting of the book is LA. As a South African writer, why did you choose a setting that

isn’t local?

It just seemed the right place to set this. She’s a Hollywood actress, he’s a Hollywood stuntman.

Where else would they live between movies? I could have changed the setting, but then it wouldn’t

have been the same story.

I feel bad that I haven’t yet set any of my books in South Africa, but I don’t seem to have any say in

the matter. The stories tell me where they’re set, rather than the other way around.

11. Much of the story circles around both Nina and Dom feeling unworthy of each other,

which is highly relatable to a reader (I think), did you purposefully choose this as a theme?

If so, Why?

I don’t think I purposefully chose that theme, though since it seems to recur in all my stories maybe

that says more about me than about my characters?

The one thing I wanted to get across in Not a Fairy Tale is that beauty is an illusion. Nina is a

successful, beautiful actress (I modeled her on Mila Kunis) yet she still battles with weight issues,

still feels inferior to others around her. It is 100% true that even the gorgeous models and actresses

we see in magazines and on TV can’t live up to the images that are presented of them!

I want women, especially younger women, to know that they are just as beautiful as the celebrities

they idolise. We’d all look gorgeous if we had a team of stylists and airbrushers turning us into

unrealistic versions of ourselves!

12. Nina and Dom get their happily ever after and they come full circle, what does HEA mean

to you? (Is it marriage? Is it a baby?)

For me, the HEA is finding a partner who will support you, and who will help you be the truest and

best version of yourself. That doesn’t always involve an exchange of rings, and for many people that

doesn’t include babies. It’s having a partner who loves you with all your flaws, and who has your

back.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Not a Fairytale, it was the prefect lazy weekend love story.

It was lovely getting to know you better, Romy!

Stalk Romy! Website. Facebook.

 

Cindi Page Author

 

First Timer at a Writers Conference

Cindi Page Author

For the first time in my life I attended a conference exclusively for Romance Writers. I joined the Romance Writers of South Africa’s Organisation (ROSA) earlier this year. To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect from the organisation itself or from the conference, but now that I’ve been a member for about 6 months and I’ve attended their annual conference I’m happy to report that I definitely feel like I’ve grown as a writer and a member of the writing community as a result.

Cindi Page Author with Carlyle Laubuschagne author
Finally met Carlyle Laubuschagne in person too!

Is it worth the money?

The spend. It’s always a question for writers just starting out. You aren’t really making money from your books yet, so can you really justify the spend at this point. I know that a lot of writers would think twice about forking out R3 -5K for a weekend conference, and then decide it’s just not worth it. Let’s not beat around the bush here, it’s a ton of money, but if you stop seeing it as an expense but rather an investment, well then it becomes about the value of event to you and your writing career. Before I get reamed from all sides about it simply not being affordable, I’d like to say that there were many conference options to choose from, from single day attendance to two days, with or without accommodation etc. Not to mention a pre-con event and a gala dinner, if you are keen on the socialising aspect. In rands and cents, a single day attendance came in at approximately R600, without flights or accommodation. Not nothing, but do-able.

Cindi Page with Mary Jo Putney
Hello Mary Jo!

7 Conference Highlights

  1. Meeting like-minded people. Writing is a pretty lonesome activity and suddenly, being surrounded by people who write (just like you) in the same genre as you do was energizing. We all had something to talk about before we even met in person. No ice-breakers required.
  2. Learning from others. During the sessions we could participate in talks and learn from fellow writers. Everything from crafting characters, to overcoming The Fear that holds us back to practical marketing tips and advice was on offer.
  3. Making friends. Yes, that happens organically and it’s a terrific return on investment.
  4. Mingling with famous authors. This year international bestselling author Mary Jo Putney gave the keynote address – which was awesome. But since many of the attendees are already published authors, it was great to meet the person behind the stories.
  5. Hearing from publishers. A few well-known local publishers attended and made themselves available for answering questions and coaching. This year Lapa books and Fire Quill Publishing hosted talks.
  6. Writing competition opportunities: ROSA awarded its first Imbali Award this year to Suzanne Jefferies for her romance novel The Joy of Comfort Eating, there was also a fun scene writing competition which attendees could participate in.
  7. The opportunity to pitch to New York agents and editors. Yes, this happened via skype. What a learning curve and awesome chance to meet face to face with agents who don’t usually accept unsolicited manuscripts. To get feedback in real time, and to hear straight from the source what they looking for is GOLD. The experience alone, whether or not your book gets picked up is a major step closer to being ready for the next pitch or query you send.

I should also mention that we got a fabulous goodie bag – filled to the brim with books!! How awesome is that?

All in all, my take on conference attendance as a writer is: if you can, do it! It’s worth it. It’s worth it just to know there are others just like you. It’s worth it just to get a feel for what other people are doing and how they are doing it so that you can figure out your own path. In fact, I loved the experience so much, I’m hatching all sorts of plans to attend the Romance Writers of America’s conference in Orlando next year 🙂

Who’s coming with me?

Cindi Page Author

 

Taking ownership of who I am as a writer, the books that inspired me and other randoms

Cindi Page Author

Hello, my name is Cindi and I’m a romance  writer…

It look me the longest time to own the fact that I really want to write love stories. I guess I always thought that if I ever did write, it had to be something more (substantial?) than a love story / chicklit. I’m over that kind of thinking now. I just want to write what makes me happy, and for now that’s romance. Oh, and I reserve the right to change my mind about genres without prior notice 🙂

I’ve always loved reading and very soon after devouring all the Danielle Steel books in the local library I moved onto the classics. Reading has never been a chore for me, so I dedicated myself to reading widely, although it was only in adulthood that I really embraced fantasy.

Here’s a list of the love stories, for varying reasons that have touched me and linger with me still (in no particular order):

Cindi Page Author blog
The Love Stories that have lingered.

 

 

Message from Nam – Danielle Steele, Like Water for ChocolateLaura Esquivel, Possession – A.S. Byatt, The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger, The Promise of StardustPriscille Sibley, Me Before You– Jojo Moyes, Outlander (the book series) – Diana Gabaldon, TwilightStephenie Meyer, Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen, Wuthering Heights Emily Brontë’, The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton, Love Story – Erich Segal, The Fault in Our Stars – John Green, Love, in English – Karina Halle, Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy, Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami.

At university in the late nineties I was totally in my element studying English, and that exposed me to even more genres and styles than before. I guess it also taught me how to think about stories, plots and interpretation and I definitely grew as a reader.

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I lacked the self-confidence to write because I believed that if I ever did it,  actually wrote something, I had to write something amazing and award winning and something “literary”. I was Michiel Heyns’ student, damnit, and if there’s ever pressure to be a late bloomer in writing and a phenomenon, well, he is it!  Being a writer was nothing more than an elusive dream… until one day. I woke up and realised: holy cow, I’m 32 years old and I’ve never written anything! I no longer felt like I had the “rest of my life” to do thing I’ve always wanted to do. So, one Saturday morning in 2013 I started writing “A Piece of My Heart” – back then the title I had in mind was “The Kilim Collector”. It was the first time I’d ever attempted to write anything more than a short piece of poetry and it was an odd start – as in: I remember writing a whole chapter: the final chapter, essentially the ending of a story,  to a book I hadn’t even started plotting.

My trip to Istanbul in 2002 had made such an impression me, and even though I met a Turkish hunk, I certainly did not embark on a romantic relationship with him. Perhaps if there was a real romance then I would not have battled coming up with a plot for my story initially! I really started writing the story blind. There was no plan, no plot, no nothing; just a whisper of a story in the back of my mind about a South African girl falling madly in love with a Turkish hunk who was too old for her.649921

My original ending for A Piece of My Heart, which I ditched

Perhaps it would tickle the people who have read it now to know that in my initial start, the book ended with Alkan arriving at Victoria’s door with an engagement ring. Ha! But every time I went back to that ending I was dissatisfied. It just wasn’t right, because let’s face it, your Turkish heartthrob isn’t just going to pitch up at your door with the family heirloom to put on your finger because you are pregnant. No, happily ever after had to be something else (more) for me. I wanted something more for Victoria than: then comes love, then comes marriage, and then comes a baby in a bay carriage! So although my book is a romance novel and although the ending isn’t tied up with a red ribbon and roses, it is a satisfactory ending where future happiness is still on the cards.

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Being a writer was a romantic notion in itself. What a wake-up call.

I saw myself as a Carey Bradshaw in Sex in the City, sitting behind my laptop and the words just flowing. I saw myself writing with long stem goblets of wine perched on my desk, but always just writing. Hollywood is a dirty little liar. I never once saw Carey being distracted by toddler boys who were either hungry or needed the toilet that minute (or both!). I never saw her leave her perfect minimalist desk to go and wee or boil a kettle. And she never ever sat down to write in a styling combination of pajamas and tracksuits without a perfectly made up face and hair pinned up with whatever was lying on the bathroom sink…

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And the biggest secret of all is that writing is hard work and hardly no-one wants to pay for you it. Most people, even those in the profession, do not tell you that. So it takes an enormous amount of sheer pigheadedness to actually write despite all of this.  To write when you don’t feel like it. To write when you have no time. To keep going even though you believe more and more that what you are writing is the biggest load of sh*t.  And to steak time to do it: on the train on your way to work, during lunch breaks, when your kids are watching Barney… Write, write write.

I hope that if you are writer that some of this will ring true for you too, and make you feel like you are not crazy or alone. Okay, maybe a little crazy, but certainly not alone.

[If you are keen to read my debut novel A Piece of My Heart click right here to start reading the first chapters.]

 

 

Inspiration and Insights: Places and Wine in A Piece of My Heart

A Piece of My Heart may very well be the love story of Victoria, a South African born farm girl and Alkan, a Turkish businessman, but to me, the places and settings of the story are as much part of the romance as the relationship between these two seemingly mis-matched characters.

The story starts in Chiba, Japan…

In 2002 I spent 4 weeks doing sight seeing in Japan and in 2003 I packed my suitcase for an even longer adventure: teaching English as a foreign language. Where my first trip was like a no strings attached fling, perfect because I wasn’t there long enough to experience anything bad, my second stint felt a lot like marriage. The honeymoon was over just few weeks in and I soon found myself battling the icy Japanese winter and living an apartment smaller than my father’s garage.  A life severely different to the one I was used to back home, in South Africa. But I’d be lying if I said that I did not fall in love with Japan, despite how hard it was to be there alone, not speaking the language and knowing no-one. I made friends. I loved my job and culture and I learned to read menus – that saved me!

Japan
Japan 2003 (photos taken with a “mik en druk” camera, so excuse the poor quality).

Istanbul, Turkey

two-continents-tour-bosphorus-bridge-tour
Image credit: Bosphorus Tours

A three day layover in Istanbul in 2002 turned into a 7 day holiday in one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been in. I loved how ancient it was. Call me crazy, but walking along those cobbled roads, visiting Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia, it’s almost like you can feel history. All the energy that’s been expended there, the then and the now, feels meshed into one. It’s an Old world with New people. During my visit I went to numerous kilim shops, tasted more flavours of Turkish Delight that I knew existed and drank apple tea at least six times a day.

 

 

Stellenbosch, South Africa

I spent five years studying at the University in Stellenbosch, but it was only after my return to SA after a year in Japan, that I really starting exploring the winelands. In 2010 I joined a wine club and soon I was not just drinking wine for leisure, but spending many happy hours developing my palate for wine, researching and learning. I’ve had countless tutored tastings since then and been fortunate enough to meet and interview various winemakers for my tourism blog. My keen interest in wine has developed into a kind of work-hobby which has been an amazing career journey too.

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Image credit: Boschkloof wines on Twitter

Tafelsig, the farm Victoria is from in A Piece of My Heart is a fictional place, but Chateau Beau Belle, as well as Boschkloof, which are mentioned by name, are very real. (And if you ever find yourself in the Stellenbosch wine region, I highly recommend that you visit these places for their extraordinary wines). I chose to mention these specific wineries for one reason only: I love their Shiraz, and that’s saying a lot because Shiraz is not my favourite wine varietal. At Beau Belle, my favourite wine is their Reserve Shiraz (and more recently I’ve taken a liking to their easy drinking chenin blanc called the Cooper), while at Boschkloof the Epilogue is one of those award winning reds which are always sold out. In which case, the Conclusion is another great choice from their premium range. I mention all of this very much by the way as no-one has paid me to mention these places, they are simply places I like and wines I have REALLY liked.

I hope that has given you some insights into the inspiration for the setting for A Piece of My Heart.

Happy reading,

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