My Perfect Wedding

The Back Flap

Helen Grey is finally getting everything she wants. She’s about to have the perfect dream wedding and begin an exciting new life abroad on the sunny Mediterranean island of Cyprus. But living the dream isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

After a mix-up at the airport, Helen finds herself drawn into the midst of an elaborate plot to steal an ancient statue and assassinate a local businessman. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, her wedding dress is AWOL, the statue seems to be cursed, and Helen is wanted by the police.

With the big day rapidly approaching, a roller-coaster of mishaps, misunderstandings, and disasters threatens to turn the newlyweds into nearly weds.

Can Helen prevent an assassination, save the statue, and have the perfect wedding? Or will the day to remember turn into one she’d rather forget?

About the Book

What is the book about?

My Perfect Wedding is a romantic comedy that combines murder and mayhem with romance and chicklit. Helen Grey is finally getting married and moving to the sunny Mediterranean to have the perfect wedding and escape the rat-race. She assumes it’s going to be nothing but love and romance, but living the dream isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It shows the twists and turns in life that can happen unexpectedly.

When did you start writing the book?

September 2010.

How long did it take you to write it?

It took five months in total.

Where did you get the idea from?

As the sequel to Fourteen Days Later, My Perfect Wedding follows the next stage in Helen’s life. I always felt that there was so much potential to take the story further. There are very few writers, if any, of Turkish Cypriot origin who write commercial fiction, so this was a great opportunity to introduce a unique infusion of British and Turkish Cypriot culture. It adds a new twist to contemporary romantic comedies.

Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?

The plot! The hard thing for me is plotting in advance. Sometimes I think too much about it, and it hinders my creativity. I write a brief plot outline, but, for me, just starting to write is better than getting hung up on too much plotting in advance. I find my characters and plot unfold more naturally as I go.

What came easily?

I spend most of my time in North Cyprus, so describing the setting came really easily. I also enjoy writing dialogue so it’s pretty easy for me to write.

Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?

I love creating characters. All my characters are a mix of people I know, people I’ve observed, or people my friends and family have told me about. I take different quirks or personalities from so many people and mix them up. The fun part is you can make up anyone you want.

We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?

People like Sophie Kinsella, Marian Keyes, Catherine Alliott, Janet Evanovich, Harlan Coben. I write in the same sort of fun, easy-reading style.

Do you have a target reader?

I write romantic comedies and comedy mysteries, and although my target audience is probably mainly women, many men also read my novels and enjoy escaping with a fun, fast-paced romp.

About Writing

Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?

I work out brief descriptions of my characters in my head before I start, but most of the time their personalities come alive and emerge as I write.

Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just Chapter headings and a couple of sentences?

As I said above, I try not to get too hung up on it. Usually it will be just a few lines of what I need to happen in a particular chapter.

Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?

I wait until I’ve finished the whole thing.

Did you hire a professional editor?

Yes. I’m not the best editor in the world! It definitely helps to have another pair of eyes for the grammar, syntax, punctuation, etc., but they will also help to point out any discrepancies and give you a fresh perspective for improvement that you might not have thought about.

Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?

No. I’m forced to listen to Bloomberg news! My husband watches it all day to keep up with the financial world. Maybe he’s getting tips from Warren Buffett on what to do with my millions when I hit the bestseller list!

About Publishing

Did you submit your work to Agents?

I didn’t submit this one to agents because the process takes so long. I did submit my previous two novels before I published them independently. I had some great feedback, and even got close to getting a traditional publishing deal a few times, but it never quite worked out.

What made you decide to go Indie? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?

It was a gradual thing. When I first started looking into it, places like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing wouldn’t allow non US authors to sell their books through them. This changed early last year and I haven’t looked back since!

Did you get your book cover professionally done or did it you do it yourself?

I did it myself.

Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?

I don’t have a plan. What works for one author won’t work for another, so I’m just using trial and error. The only downside to being an Indie author is having the time to promote and market your work as well as finding the time to write.

Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?

I’ve had all my manuscripts critiqued professionally before I published them. This is invaluable to a newbie for producing a top quality novel. There are plenty of forums and blogs that give a vast wealth of information to newbies looking to become an Indie. I’ve learned so much information from them in the last two years, and knowledge is power!

What are you working on now?

I’m working on the second novel in my Amber Fox cozy mystery series.

Back to Basics on Backstory

My mission as a book coach is to help writers write the best books they can, which means paying attention to:

the macro elements (the story or argument the book makes)
the micro elements (the words on the page)
the emotional realities of the writing life (the habits that lead to success)
I’ve developed a series of posts to help you learn how to write one really great chapter so that you can take those lessons and apply them to all your work.

  • Post 1 – Yank Your Reader Into Your Story With a Great Opening Line
  • Post 2 – How to Start Your Story in the Right Place
  • Post 3 –How to Get the Story Out of Your Head and Onto the Page – a Lesson on Shaking Off the Burden of Knowledge
  • Post 4 –A Little Lesson in Dialogue
  • Post 5 – Mastering the Art of the Scene

Several weeks ago, I wrote a post about the best place to start a story and I shared this graphic:

You can plainly see that backstory is not just the stuff that happened before we got to the story. It’s part of the story. It’s baked into it. What happened before colors everything that happens now. This is true in our own lives and it’s true in fiction, as well. You need to understand how backstory works in order to write a seamless story that captures a readers’ attention.

How Backstory Works

Let’s take a look at how it works in our own lives.

The other day, I was watching Michel Pollan’s “Cooked” on Netflix, a series based on the book of the same name, about how cooking transforms humans. Watching with me were my husband and our college daughter’s boyfriend, Jon, who had just arrived to live with us while he completed an internship. Episode #2, Water, starts with the image of a Dansk brand Dutch oven:

My mind instantly went to an image of my mother making spaghetti sauce in a pot just like that, and said, “My mom had that pot in yellow!”

My husband said, “My mom had one that was white” –- and indeed, we had the baking pan companion to his mom’s white pot in our kitchen cabinet; it was a beat-up thing, battered but still going strong.

My husband and I were both instantly awash in memories of our mothers and the foods they cooked and their kitchens and our childhood, and we both later confirmed that we were also instantly thinking about the dark blue Le Cruset Dutch oven we bought on a road trip when we first listened to Michael Pollan narrate his book and how we had the belief that this pot would outlive us, and that our kids would fight over it because it represented something central about who we were: people who believed in sitting down together for dinner each night.

Our memories led us to action – which is the critical thing for storytellers. No one wants to read a whole book where the characters sit around musing about their mothers and spaghetti. The action in our case was this: The next day, we got down some cookbooks, planned out a meal centered around the Dutch oven, and made a whole evening out of inviting Jon into a ritual that we felt defined us a family. That action set the stage for the three of us to cook together for the next few months, an activity that would prove to be both bonding and fun. Our blue pot, in other words, was a gateway, an invitation for an outsider to come in.

The point is that the image of the blue pot was not neutral. We were filled up with memories triggered by the pot. Our memories led us to an action. The action moved our story forward.

And yet Jon had never seen a pot like Michael Pollan’s blue Dansk Dutch oven. His mother did not have this pot. To him, the photo on the screen was just a cinematic exercise in getting the viewer to think about cooking things with water and the fact that you needed a pot to do that.

But it’s important to note that the Dansk pot wasn’t without meaning to Jon. The camera lingered on the pot. It was a “hero’s shot” of the pot. He recognized the fact that the filmmaker wanted him to pay attention to the pot, and he attached meaning to it based on the information he had at hand: this was a documentary about cooking, the theme was water. The meaning he made was there, but it had no specific memory attached to it.

All of this has to do with the idea of backstory in fiction, because the point is that nothing is neutral. No one looks at a blue pot and thinks nothing. You might think, “I always hated Mom’s spaghetti,” or “Nice lighting on that hero shot” or “Love that color blue” or “That weird handle reminds me of a pipe wrench” but you think something.

The same is true of your characters. And this is what backstory is – the events that happened prior to Page 1 that we bring into the story and use to make meaning of it.

Backstory, in other words, is always triggered by something in story present – a blue pot, a Madeline cookie (made famous by Proust), something someone says or does.

And it always changes the landscape of what is happening. It has an impact. It does something to the person experiencing it. Otherwise, why bother to tell your reader about it?

Backstory Guidelines

Let’s look at some Do’s and Don’ts so you can wrap your mind around how this works.

  • Do weave backstory into your narrative throughout. It can be a line or two, a paragraph, a whole scene, but it needs to be there.
  • Do not leave backstory out of the story, because life doesn’t work like that, and memory doesn’t work like that. Unless you are writing about someone who doesn’t have a memory, people have memory. They see the world through the lens of their experiences. Pretending otherwise is to rob your story of a large part of its meaning.
  • Do use backstory to help your character make a point, make a decision, or make sense of their journey.
  • Do not insert a piece of backstory that just sits there doing nothing, leading to nothing, causing nothing to happen.
  • Do remember that your reader is smart. They know what fits organically and what has been crammed in.
  • Do not insert a random piece of backstory into a narrative because you want the reader to know this information.
  • Do remember to bring your reader along on the journey of the backstory – particularly if it’s a lengthy passage. Invite the reader to it with language that leads them into the past; show them the reason why you are diverting them from the main story (i.e. what it all means); and lead them back to the main story with language that guides them firmly back into the flow.
  • Do not expect them to follow where you are taking them if you don’t give them a roadmap. You can’t make the reader guess the meaning of what you are telling them. You have to make it clear.

These simple guidelines will help you pick up little bits of backstory and weave them into your story at every turn, and they will help you when you want to go back in time for a really big and powerful revelation, as well.

Analyze Your Own Work

Take a few pages of your own work, or an entire scene or chapter, and analyze it in this same way. Mark the subtle and overt instances of backstory. Evaluate why they are there — what they add to the story — and how you move in and out of them. By paying such close attention to the flow of the back-and-forth narrative, you will improve your understanding of how backstory works, and learn how to write it with more power and purpose.

Rhythm and Pacing of Writing; The Final Flourish

Once you have the fundamental aspects of your chapter in place, you can work to make it sound good to the reader’s ear – to make it pleasing, memorable, unique and rhythmic. Excellent writing flows. It rises and falls. It builds to a crescendo or falls and dissipates in intensity so that the reader really feels the impact of the journey they have been through.

In his recent memoir, Bruce Springsteen writes about the similarity between music and writing, and it is this flow that he is talking about:

Writing prose has its own set of rules. It connects up to your musical rules, but you gotta create the music without the music. You gotta find the music in the way that the story moves and the rhythms shift and your voice shifts. You’ve got to create momentum purely on the page…..

The Concept of Flow

This concept of flow applies to a book as a whole. Imagine a shoot-‘em-up movie that was nothing but shooting ‘em up. Or a thriller that was nothing but a chase scene. Or a love story that had nothing but love in it. You’d never stick around to find out what happened. We need the ups as well as the downs, and paying attention to the rhythm and pacing of a story allows you to give your reader that experience.

Achieving “Music Without The Music”

The idea of rhythm and pacing – of flow — also applies to any given chapter itself, as well. A chapter can be fast or slow. It can gather speed and drive towards a crashing conclusion, or float to a soft landing. In order to achieve the “music without the music” within a chapter, you need to pay attention to three main things:

  • Identify the role of the chapter in the whole story – what is it driving toward? Or recovering from? Knowing this will help with your pacing. Should it move fast or wind down slowly? In order to identify this aspect of the work, create a simple visual outline of your book. To help you do this, I recommend this video by the novelist Kurt Vonnegut. He asks you to graph the plot or the action of the story. Once you do that, you can identify where the chapter in question falls on the graph, which helps you know where it fits in the overall arc of the story.
  • In this chapter excerpt from Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, we are introduced to a grim world on a grim day. The stakes are established, and things go from bad to worse – and they go there fast. You can imagine the graph of this story like a ball falling off a cliff. We barely have time to get introduced to the characters and their dire circumstances before Collins amps up the tension even more — and reels us in. This pacing fits the role the chapter plays in the whole story.
  • Pay attention to the length of the chapter. Sometimes a short, sweet chapter that drills down into one key scene can pack more punch than a chapter that goes on too long. Use your chapter breaks to help you with the pacing and flow.
  • Collins could have made her Chapter 1 much shorter, ending it perhaps on page 14 when Katniss and Gale part ways before the reaping and he says, “Wear something pretty.” That is a moment where there is a change of scene, and we are aware of the big stakes of the day, so it might have made sense from a story perspective. But Collins drives through to the big emotional moment so that there is no rest for the reader. That pacing, in other words, serves her purpose. We are made to wait, to suffer the not knowing just like Katniss does. The length of the chapter itself adds to the sense of drama.
  • Pay attention to the last lines. I see a lot of writers making the mistake of holding back too much information and too much emotion at the end of chapters. They go almost to where they need to go and then stop – as if holding back or being coy is what will rope a reader in. But if you have set everything up to rise and fall, and drive towards the end, let us feel it. Let us have it. Get it all on the page, so we can’t help but need to turn the page to find out what happens next.

Collins does this at the end of her first chapter:

It’s time for the drawing. Effie Trinket says as she always does, “Ladies first!” and crosses to the glass ball with the girls’ names. She reaches in, digs her hand deep into the ball, and pulls out a slip of paper. The crowd draws in a collective breath and then you can hear a pin drop, and I’m feeling nauseous and so desperately hoping that it’s not me, that it’s not me, that it’s not me.

Effie Trinket crosses back to the podium, smoothes the slip of paper, and reads out the name in a clear voice. And it’s not me. It’s Primrose Everdeen.

Notice the way Collins lets us feel what Katniss is feeling (“that it’s not me, that it’s not me, that it’s not me”) and how she lets us hope for the tiniest second that Katniss gets her wish ( “And it’s not me.”) and then how she hammers home that what has happened is worse than it being Katniss herself: the name picked is her sister’s name.

“Listen” to Your Own Work

The best test of rhythm and pacing is to read your work out loud to hear how it sounds. Shut the door, and actually read it out loud. Note how it feels, how it moves, the momentum of the thing. This is one of the best ways to ensure that your work will have that music without the music, and be a pleasure to read.