Five Things That Don’t Happen in Fiction (But Do In Real Life)

Before my co-author and I began writing novels I had no idea that characters live under strict guidelines we don’t observe in real life. True, they can be glittering vampires (What’s up with that, anyway? Part of the deal for eternal life was no more sunshine, or poof! But that’s a subject for another day). Or they can live in world overrun by zombies, or filled with angry teenagers forced to fight to the death on national television. But here are some rules writers and their characters can’t break.

1.) Identical or Similar Names

Don’t know about you, but even with the first name Melanie, I find myself in situations involving other Melanies. A few weeks ago, my co-author Andrea and I were asked to play tennis in a group with another Melanie and Andrea. Figuring out who was coming and who wasn’t was a bit tricky. But in noveland, similar names are a no no. You can’t even have multiples of the ubiquitous Kayla/Kaitlyn/Katie, although any kindergarten teacher will tell you that there’s always at least three of them in any  group. The exception being if similar names are used as a plot device, i.e., one Katie gets another Katie’s texts by mistake, and ends up on the run from international terrorists. And, okay, I realize this is a terrible example because no one with a cute name like Katie would ever do anything more deadly than photobomb.

2.) Out of character behavior

In noveland, characters may grow and develop over time, but within an expected arc. I’ve had editors tell me to change a phrase because “Bethany wouldn’t say that, it isn’t consistent with her character.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen mild mannered women go full metal bitch on a bad day. Conversely, the people I loathe most in the world will sometimes annoy me by doing nice things. In fiction, if a bad guy commits a selfless act, he is virtually guaranteed to die a couple of paragraphs after redeeming himself. Lengthy deathbed monologue optional.

3.) Excessive use of cellphones and other devices

One of my theories on the current popularity of dystopian and historical settings in all genres is that it gets rid of the blasted phone, not to mention iPod, iPad, laptop and monster TV with seven million channels. Of course characters in some novels use cell phones, but not in the maniacal, obsessive way real people do. That’s because it would be boring as hell to read about someone snapchatting and Instagramming her life away (maybe we need to think about that).

4.) Wardrobe repetition

In noveland, every everyone seems to have access to Kim Kardashian’s closet or the equivalent. The exception, of course, is when clothing is an indication of a disturbing character trait or the end of civilization. Crazed killers might wear the same jeans and shirt repeatedly, as would someone on the verge of a breakdown. Zombie fighters in a world where there is no running water, electricity or J. Crew may also have wardrobe issues. But the rest are expected to undergo multiple wardrobe changes, and each and every outfit must say something about who that character is. I have to applaud fictional characters, who are rarely seen shopping or doing laundry, yet manage to come up with clothes that are not only clean, but expressive. Personally, I spend a lot of time in yoga pants.

5.) Paying bills, voting or paying taxes

If I weren’t ready to give up real life and live in a book for the clothes (see above), I’d do it just to avoid all civic and personal responsibility. When was the last time a character returned to his home to find his electricity had been cut off because he’d been too damn busy tracking down a kidnapped girl or saving the world to pay the power company? Never going to happen. Magical elves take care of all these mundane details even in books where there are no magical elves. But that’s okay. Who wants a detective hot on the trail of a psychotic killer to turn to his partner and say, “Damn, man, I forgot it was April 15. You’re going to have to handle this while I go wait in line to mail my return.”

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Queen of the Court $.99

book_cover_V4Get Queen of the Court for just $.99 for Kindle September 14-18.

If you enjoy social satire, you’ll love this tale of an ex-stripper, Shana Lee Jones, who bails out a bankrupt country club and, to the horror of members, makes it the stage for her own reality show. You won’t find another novel featuring outlaw bikers, Wiccans, socialites, country club tennis, Ponzi schemes, politics, the paranormal and even, possibly, murder. It’s the perfect way to stretch summer beach reading into fall. Give yourself a reason to laugh this September.
http://www.amazon.com/Queen-Court-Melanie-Howard-ebook/dp/B00DNBMZ6A

Which One of You Is the Stripper?

My co-author Andrea and I get some pretty interesting questions from readers. Many of these queries are thoughtful, and allow us to reflect on our work in ways that otherwise might not have been possible. Others are just funny as [insert favorite expletive here]. And so…
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1.) Which one of you is the stripper?

It’s Andrea. Just kidding. Despite the fact that our protagonist in Queen of the Court, Shana Jones, is a former stripper, this detail is not drawn from our life experiences. It’s a common misconception that a novel’s central character is always the writer in disguise. This may be true in some cases, but J.K. Rowling (I am always picking on her – just fanatically jealous of her millions) is not a wizard, Arthur Golden (Memoirs of a Geisha) was never a geisha, female or Japanese and so on. So no ex-strippers here, but we are willing to develop a pole dancing routine if it will get our book made into a movie.

2.) Are there any characters in your book who aren’t human?

One could argue that Lavinia Winter and her daughter Allie Beech lack the range of emotion to be considered fully human. But the audience member at a book signing who asked this question really wanted to know if Queen of the Court had any cats as characters. The answer is yes, including a colony of feral cats and an old battered Tom who saves….oh, wait, spoiler. Anyway, yes, we have cats, and we are animal lovers and pet owners. But we would like to assure everyone we are not “cat ladies” and have no intention of dying alone in a stuffy apartment surrounded by an excess of felines. Unless, of course, it will get our book made into a movie.

3.) Is your book based on actual people, places and events?

I quote our front matter here: “This book is a work of fiction. Characters, organizations, events and incidents are the product of the authors’ imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons and places is entirely coincidental.”

4.) So are the people who think Belle Vista is really their country club mad at you? [Asked by a reader who didn’t quite believe the answer to question 4.]

Yes! We hear this all the time! Interestingly, people we have never met regularly claim they are in the book (most seem to think they are Allie Beech). There are also those who proclaim publicly that they refuse to read the book, because they know we’re making fun of them and they think it is mean. Which is interesting, because if you haven’t read the book, how can you know we are making fun of you?

A couple of points here. First, we played country club tennis, so we’re making fun of ourselves. Second, it’s country club tennis. We are not poking fun at starving children or Mother Teresa. Third, if you really believe you are one of the characters in Queen of the Court, you have bigger problems than being one of the characters in Queen of the Court. Read the book and you’ll see what we mean.

We are frankly hoping that the once percent grows a set before our sequel comes out, because all this whining is giving us headaches. One final comment: Stop calling us mean. We prefer the term “bitches”.

Melanie Howard and Andrea Leidolf are authors of the social satire Queen of the Court and Merrywood, a mystery scheduled for publication this summer.

Queen of the Court is available in paperback and for Kindle on Amazon.com. http://www.amazon.com/Queen-Court-Melanie-Howard-ebook/dp/B00DNBMZ6A

Truth is Stranger Than Fiction

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We knew when we wrote Queen of the Court that because it was satire, critics (and by this I mean cranky amateurs as well as professional reviewers) would find some of our characters and scenes over the top. Like the fact our protagonist Shana Jones grew up worshipping at the World’s End Apocalyptic Church of Signs, at least until the snake-handling leader, Pastor John, was delivered to his heavenly reward via timber rattler. As it turns out, my co-author Andrea and I may have more impressive powers of prophecy than our unfortunate creation Pastor John ever did. Earlier this week a story broke in the news that is so close to our plotline that if it were fiction, we might have a legal case.  http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/16/us/snake-salvation-pastor-bite/  Pastor Jamie Coots, star of the National Geographic reality show Snake Salvation (yes, snake handling and reality TV together, where have we heard that before….) and spiritual leader of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name, met his maker via snake venom in the manner of Pastor John while conducting a religious service.  Like the real Pastor Jamie, Pastor John was from several generations of Pentecostal  snake handlers who believe that the bible requires Christians to take up snakes and, despite significant evidence to the contrary, the Holy Spirit will protect those who do from venomous bites.\ Our fictional Pastor John passed his pulpit down to his son, Levi and we read on CNN that Pastor Jamie hoped his son a the fully grown yet oddly named Little Cody, would take over for him. Spoiler alert: based on the story line we wrote for Levi, we would strongly, I repeat strongly, advise Little Cody to look into other lines of work. Something safe, like accounting or stocking shelves at the Piggly Wiggly. For more fiction that is, if not stranger than truth, at least every bit as entertaining, read Queen of the Court. http://www.amazon.com/Queen-Court-Melanie-Howard-ebook/dp/B00DNBMZ6A

UK Readers, We Love You (Now Love Us Back – Please!)

 

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(In case you don’t want to read any further, Queen of the Court by Melanie Howard -that’s me – and Andrea Leidolf will be just £.99 from February 8 till February 14. Happy St. Valentine’s Day! But you are missing the funny part.)  
 
We think UK readers will love the humor in our novel Queen of the Court, the friction between new money and old, the quirky characters, the absurd situations, and of course the copious amounts of Pimm’s #1 Cup consumed by all involved. It’s the book Julian Fellowes would have written if he’d spent his childhood in West Virginia hunting squirrels, or in an American suburb playing travel lacrosse. (Sir Julian, we are sooooo open to an Anglicized version of Queen of the Court airing on PBS. Downton Abbey can’t last forever – call us! We would say have your people call our people, but we don’t have people yet. We’re working on that.)
 
We understand that UK readers have been slow to embrace Kindle, so we’re offering a Valentine’s special on the eBook version of Queen of the Court. Normally it retails for  £3.98 but from February until February 14 we’re offering it for just £.99 as part of a Kindle Countdown Deal. You can hardly get a decent cup of tea for that, let alone a great read. Here’s the link http://www.amazon.co.uk/Queen-Court-Melanie-Howard-ebook/dp/B00DNBMZ6A. If you can’t wait, buy it now. We’ll love you for it.

how I gave up the idea of the great American novel and finally wrote a book

how I gave up the idea of the great American novel and finally wrote a book

 

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I always knew I would write a book. I just didn’t know it would take me so long to get around to it. Some of that is of course my own doing. (Move to Paris to write a novel, drink lots of red wine, smoke Dunhills, fill notebooks with meaningful and important notes, lose them while drunk on the Metro. Move to New York to write a novel, go to lots of cool clubs, work in PR, never even buy a notebook. Move to Washington to get married. Have kids. Buy notebooks for kids. Read novels in between carpooling to kids’ sporting events.) However, I place some of the blame for my late blooming on the Great American Novel, or at the very least, the Important American Novel. (The Literary British Novel as well. Perhaps more so – I mean they didn’t even let Americans compete for the Mann Booker Prize until this year. That’s another whole level of novelistic hubris.) These are the books that get golden seals, statuettes, silver pens and, if not immortality, at least more than thirty days on the front shelves at Barnes & Noble before being moved into the Bargain section. These are the books that Michiko Kakutani reviews, passing judgment in lyrical prose. (For those who are not review obsessed, New York Times book reviewer who is the literary equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court. Her word is law.) When you’re armed with a degree in English or Comparative literature, as my co-author Andrea Leidolf and I are, you feel that if you’re going to write something, it had better be something Important. Something that changes or advances the course of literature. Yeah, well, try sitting down at a typewriter/computer/laptop with that monkey on your back. You end up fleeing to Facebook or typing meaningless crap that makes Jack Nicholson’s novel in The Shining look comprehensible. That’s because not everyone was meant to write Infinite Jest or The Corrections, in part because most readers cannot live on elite literature alone. It’s like subsisting on a diet of raw sea urchin. It’s great and all that, but every now and then you want a hamburger. That’s where writers like us come in. Let’s get one thing straight: we are not defending bad writing. We just believe fervently that good writing can be found in a plain old good book as well as a literary marvel (and a whole lot of bad writing can be found in wannabe literary marvels). Lately, there’s been a bit of a war, with lots of Twitter sniping, between Important Novelists, like Franzen, and “regular” authors, like Jennifer Weiner (Good In Bed and other witty, wonderful books for women). Unnecessary, much like the “book or Kindle” debate. Why can’t you have it all? Cuddle up with iQ84 one night and Bridget Jones’ Diary the next. Who is stopping you? Hell, throw in a classic Woman in White as well, and some great true crime. Reread your favorite Nancy Drews. There is no shame in wanting to read a good book driven by great characters and a definable beginning, middle and end. And as for Michiko Kakutani – if she ever feels like sitting down to the literary equivalent of a really great hamburger and fries, we have the book for her.

Melanie Howard is co-author, with Andrea Leidolf, of Queen of the Court (link follows). Her work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, SELF, Glamour and other major magazines.

http://www.amazon.com/Queen-Court-Melanie-Howard-ebook/dp/B00DNBMZ6A